Dwight Howard was arguably the most feared defensive stopper in any American sport before the United States' 2-1 loss to Germany. It only took Tim Howard 93 minutes to drop Dwight from his perch and become the top American defender with the Howard surname, or any name at all. It’s also worth noting that Admiral Michelle Howard became the first female, and African-American, bestowed with four stars within the Navy that defends our seas, which drops Dwight to third on the United States’ All-Defensive Team.

Tim Howard’s a mix of both—a professional athlete and an American hero in the colloquial usage of the word hero. He was at least worthy enough of being promoted to Secretary of Defense—at least on Wikipedia for a short period.

Defense is an understatement for what Howard exhibited diving in front of a flurry of orbs flying towards the net like bullets. Howard meticulously constructed a barbed wire fence around the goal for 93 minutes. Howard’s fence-work for the U.S. has been discussed in The Shadow League prism before. Our most recent column on Friday about the U.S. Men’s National Team revolved around his precognitive abilities to read the lithe movements of striker’s boots and the flight of the ball before they even make contact, allowing him to snuff out scoring opportunities.

On Thursday, the legend of Howard hit its apotheosis in the World Cup’s quarterfinal knockout stage. Despite, surrendering two ill-fated goals in the extra time period against a Belgium squad that features a smorgasbord of young, world-class European forwards, midfielders and strikers, Howard’s 16 saves in the Round of 16 became the new benchmark for World Cup goalkeeping in the last 50 years. 

Their attack smothered the U.S.’ backline, but Howard was an absolute godsend. Until Tuesday afternoon, Guillermo Ochoa’s six-saves against Brazil was widely considered the best goalkeeping performance of the 2014 World Cup. Brazil’s side took 14 total shots.

Against the United States, Belgium targeted 38 shots at Howard’s home. Of the 18 on target, only two got past Howard.

Unfortunately, the loss may also have been Howard’s World Cup send-off—at least as a starter. At 35, if Howard does make the United States’ World Cup roster in 2018, he’ll be 39 years old.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this is that the United States wasted a plethora of opportunities to put Belgium in their rear view mirror while they advanced to the quarterfinals. Alas, Chris Wondolowski was unable to cleanly flick a shot into the back of the net in the 92nd minute. Instead, in his excitement, Wondo sent the ball soaring above the goal post.

If Howard does make the team in four years, he’ll be the second or third keeper behind Brad Guzman and a goalkeeper TBD. Or perhaps he beats the odds, fights off age and emulates Colombia’s substitute goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, the oldest player in World Cup history, or Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff, who remains the oldest winner at the age of 40 during the 1982 tourney.

H/T to Big Lead:

If that was the finale, it was a blaze of glory for the Everton keeper who etched his name not only into U.S. lore, but also World Cup legend status.