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Tim Howard: Injury 'not an issue' ahead of U.S.'s 'huge' World Cup qualifiers

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Goalkeeper Tim Howard says he feels confident that he's recovered sufficiently from groin surgery, and he's ready to help the U.S. national team get back to winning ways in Friday's World Cup qualifier against Honduras.

The U.S. currently sits last in the final Hexagonal round after dropping matches to Mexico and Costa Rica in November. The U.S. has never started the final round of qualifying with two defeats since CONCACAF adopted the current format for the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign, putting the Americans under immense pressure.

"It's a huge game for us," Howard told reporters. "It's helpful that we've had guys who have been through the Hex before, who understand what that takes and the pressures that are on us, but yeah, it's a big game."

The U.S. had a light training session on Monday, its first since most of the players arrived in San Jose over the weekend. Howard, who has played just two matches since recovering from groin surgery in November, took it easy, stretching on the side.

"That's every day for me now," he said of his stretching routine. "Between now and the next three years, that's what every day looks like. It's a process, but hopefully it will pay off."

When asked if he was 100 percent healed, Howard joked, "I'm 38, I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent again."

He later added: "I've played through everything in my career, so it's not an issue for me."

Tim Howard, right, stretched on the side during the U.S.'s training session on Monday.

All told, Howard's recovery process lasted nearly four months. He said the most difficult challenge of his recuperation was "the unknown" in terms of how his body would react along the way. But he has looked sharp since his return.

"I did everything I could in training to match game intensity. I ticked every box, covered all the angles, but you never know what it's like when you get back in a game, but it was fine."

Howard said that despite the injury, he feels he hasn't slowed down that much physically, and is now reaping the benefits of having played over 600 games at club level, and another 111 for the national team.

"You hope you're experience gives you better angles, better positioning and better decision-making," he said. "But I'm thankful that my reactions and my reflexes haven't slowed, so that's been a good thing. I probably take less risks, and I think that's helpful."

In the wake of the two recent defeats in qualifying, much has been said about Howard's comments regarding the commitment level -- or more accurately the lack of it -- from his international teammates, but he indicated that the vibe around the U.S. camp has been positive.

"Now is when we really earn our money, so I think everyone has come in very excited," he said. "It's been really good around the hotel, but that's not anything different."

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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