The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

July 2, 2014

COLUMN: How Tim Howard saved U.S. soccer

— Tim Howard had a lot of saves Tuesday afternoon in the United States Round of 16 game against Belgium. The U.S. goalkeeper recorded 16 saves to be exact, a new World Cup record.

Howard used every part of his body to pull off one acrobatic save after another. But his biggest save didn’t come on any of the 39 shots Belgium fired his way.

Tim Howard’s greatest achievement is the collective work he put in to keep sports fans on the edge of their seats for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon.

Without Howard’s heroics, the U.S. never makes it to overtime. That ball never falls to the feet of Chris Wondolowski in the 90th minute with the game tied 0-0. Julian Green never enters the game and becomes the youngest U.S. player to score at a World Cup.

Without Tim Howard, there isn’t hope.

As the U.S. sent wave after wave to attack the Belgium goal in the dying moments of double-overtime, the life you felt was the gift he gave you. And even though they lost the game, he still saved U.S. soccer.

Instead of words like “proud” and “optimistic,” Tuesday’s sports headlines would probably have read “embarrassment” and “overmatched.” If not for Howard, the United States loses that game by two or three goals, maybe more.

As much ground as soccer made up to other U.S. sports over the last three weeks, a blowout loss on the biggest stage negates all that. Pundits across the country are writing how bad this U.S. team is and how far they have to go.

Instead, the national media latched on to this team and the nation identified with its grittiness and never-say-die attitude, led by the interminable Tim Howard.

To put the 35-year-old’s performance in perspective, only six goalkeepers at this World Cup have recorded more than 16 saves — during the entire tournament.

Already regarded as one of the top five goalkeepers in the world, Howard put in a performance for the ages. Belgium’s captain, Vincent Kompany, who plays against Howard in the English Premiere League, tweeted after the game:

“Two words.. TIM HOWARD #Respect”

Howard earned the respect of millions, but his effort in the knockout round is nothing new. The bald-headed, bearded shot-stopper has been saving his team for the past decade.

With Howard in goal, the team has advanced to the knockout stages at consecutive World Cups for the first time. Despite often being outmatched, as they were against Belgium, the U.S. was in all those games until the very end. And more than once, it was because Tim Howard was between the pipes.

During the United States’ last seven World Cup games, the game-winning goal has been scored in the 80th minute or later in six of those.

Howard isn’t the first U.S. goalkeeper to make a name for himself. In fact, the United States is known for producing world-class shot-stoppers, but none have ever put in a performance like we saw Tuesday.

In a World Cup that’s already seen some exceptional goalkeeping, Tim Howard set the standard.

Will he be in uniform in 2018 at age 39?

It’s a long shot.

But, then again, so were the team’s chances of getting out of the “Group of Death.”

 

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