With all the talk about a Man United quintuple in the English media you would have thought this match was merely a formality. But Tim Howard, discarded as surplus to the requirements at United in 2006 came back to haunt his old side today with a fantastic match and two clutch PK shootout saves.
Howard continues the strong tradition of American keepers in the English leagues. Kasey Keller signed with Milwall in 1992 and soon after Juergan Sommer, Ian Feuer and Mike Amman were all playing between the pipes in England. Brad Friedel joined them after the 1997 MLS season, a year which saw Kasey Keller lead Leicester City to a League Cup triumph at Wembley.
Keller and Friedel set the standard for American keepers. Friedel has a rough start with Liverpool but after his transfer to Blackburn in 2000 his career took off and he became one of the top keepers on the planet. Keller, always more of a journeyman at smaller clubs than his country man Friedel, had successful stints in Spain and Germany before heroically leading Fulham’s great escape last season from relegation.
Keller’s good friend Marcus Hahnemann left MLS for England in 1999 and remains a fixture in the Football League. Keller himself now beat Hahnemann home to the Pacific Northwest by signing with Seattle Sounders this season, and his friend is sure to follow him with the Sounders after Keller retires.
A recognition of the quality of American keepers occurred in 2003 when Howard was signed by Manchester United and almost instantly became the starter. Howard was solid in the 2004-04 season but a gaffe in the Champions League against Porto saw his United first team duty limited despite playing in an FA Cup Final victory.
Howard got even with United today at Wembley. His game has been elevated to the point where he is the first undisputed US #1 keeper since Tony Meola in 1994. Leaving Manchester for Liverpool was a good move. David Moyes is a patient and tolerant manager and Howard has been more comfortable in the setup at Goodison Park.
Now looking ahead, a busy summer looms for the US number one. First the FA Cup final versus mighty Chelsea at Wembley. Then two critical US qualifiers at Costa Rica and home to Honduras. Then the Confederations Cup in South Africa against the likes of Brazil, Italy and Egypt. Howard will then be thrust back into qualifying action with the US, before potentially playing in the Community Shield if Everton wins the FA Cup.
A whirlwind football tour this summer. Not bad for a Jersey boy.