The only American who doesn’t don the red, white and blue isn’t German-born manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Under FIFA rules, goalkeepers must wear jerseys with colors that distinguish him from the other players, the referee and the assistant referees.
United States goalkeeper Tim Howard sticks out like a sore thumb on the pitch. In a sport in which individual greatness is camouflaged by the synchronized cooperation of nine other teammates on the pitch, standing in goal is one of the more daunting, esoteric tasks in the world of football.
Some would argue that the enormity of lining up for penalty kicks is the most pressure-packed moment of any footballer’s athletic life. However, the goalkeeper’s perspective is rarely considered. Goalkeepers experience that loner feeling at least five times in the lonely box against top strikers in those pressure-packed penalty situations. They also experience that dread whenever a goal is surrendered during open play or before set pieces when an attack preps to breach the gates into their 18x44 yard domain.
They’re the bouncer guarding the theoretical velvet rope below the goalpost. Howard is the one checkin’ IDs and bouncing trespassers trying to force their way into the 18/44 club.
Howard should have been hoisted onto his teammate's shoulders and carried off the field after his performance in the group stage. Opponents have outshot the United States 50 to 9 thus and the saving grace has been the 6-3 Howard and his quick-twitch reflexes.
Like Ricky from Boyz In The Hood trapped in the alley, Howard was under siege and enduring shots on goal against the triumvirate of Ghana, Portugal and Germany for two weeks. For approximately 280 minutes, Howard defended Team USA’s goal from a firing squad of some of the world’s most lethal attacking offensive goal-seeking missile launchers.
Clint Dempsey’s goals and relentless attacks vs. Portugal and Ghana may have been iconic moments from the tournament, but Howard’s saves have been the saving grace of Team USA’s group stage success.
If Landon Donovan is America’s football gem, Howard is the most prized export. Across the pond, Howard has spent nearly a dozen years carving out a legacy in the English Premier League since leaving the MetroStars in 2003 for Manchester United where he roomed with a young striker named Cristiano Ronaldo.
Eventually, Howard departed Man. U, but since 2007 he’s been Everton FC’s man in the box.
For all his goal defending acumen, Howard’s most historic moment was the time he became only the fourth goalkeeper to score in the EPL after a clearance kick from 100 yards away bounced over the head of the Bolton backline and goalkeeper Adam Bogdan.
Howard is respected in England, but should be revered alongside Landon Donovan as the key cog on the opposite end of the pitch in the golden age of Team USA football.
In this World Cup Howard may be staking his claim to being the most accomplished goal keeper in USMNT history. In Thursday's 1-nil loss to the Germans, Howard actually surpassed Kasey Keller for the most U.S. goalkeeper international caps with his 103rd appearance.
Howard has been far from Mr. Clean against World Cup foes, allowing four goals to whiz by, yet, the numbers don’t define his virtuosity goalpost to goalpost. The United States’ strategy has seemingly invoked the 2000 Baltimore Ravens axiom of defense first and possum-dead offense which has resulted in a harrowing World Cup existence for Howard. The first goal Howard allowed against Portugal was a miscue caused by defender Geoff Cameron's poor clearance kick and the second was again the result of Cameron on the backline falling asleep and allowing a streaking Silvestre Valeres to beat him to a cross in front of the U.S. goal territory.
If Sepp Blatter, achieved his pipe dream of taking the World Cup intergalactic, Howard would have our vote to join Earth’s 23-man roster.
At 35, this may be the final World Cup for the United States’ Guardian of the World Cup Galaxy, but he'll create a few more memorable moments when all is said and done.
Howard’s saved the United States 13 times in the goal through three games, but the pressure will get kicked up a notch against Belgium's ten-man attack ledy by striker Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Eden Hazard.
Unlike cantankerous U.S. women’s team goalkeeper Hope Solo and her prolific Lindsey Lohantics off the pitch, the last line of the men's team defense is an even-keeled leader as well the United States’ final defense against advancing marauders.
The odds get slimmer as the World Cup enters the do-or-die stage, but with Howard in the net, anything is possible.