Liverpool-based Everton FC will begin their brief United States Preseason Tour tomorrow night, as they face the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park. In a blow for fans of the US Men’s National Team, it was reported this afternoon by Steven Goff (Twitter @SoccerInsider) that goalkeeper Tim Howard would not be appearing for Everton in their friendly against the Union. It is also unclear if Howard will be available for their match with DC United on Saturday night.
For National Team fans who typically root from their couch or local pub, the primary draw to attending a friendly with Everton is Tim Howard. Considered currently to be one of the top netminders in the world, he represents the best our Men’s National Team has to offer. There are other Americans in Europe who rank highly with fans, such as Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley. But Howard epitomizes American football’s main contribution to the footballing world, a veritable diamond mine of quality goalkeepers.
The official statement about his release from duty claims that he remains on holiday. There are some questions as to the legitimacy of this reasoning, but you can’t deny that he spent a full month on international duty in the Gold Cup. With all of that being said, as the ambassador for Everton to the American fan, Howard’s absence will be remarkable. He is held in high regard by most fans, and he runs the risk of alienating those who support the USMNT on the World Stage.
The Union have indicated that this was Everton’s call, and that they were unaware of this until very recently. I tend to believe this, because a series of posts on Facebook indicated that he was scheduled to fly to Philadelphia today. Obviously the Union (and DC) used Howard’s celebrity to spur along their marketing campaign. If this was a last-minute decision by Everton, it wouldn’t surprise me if this adds strain to the relationship between the Toffees and the two Major League Soccer outfits, who are now forced to assuage disappointed fans.
Fortunately for Philadelphians, Tim Howard should appear for the United States in their friendly with Mexico in August. In addition, the USMNT played a match at RFK Stadium during the Gold Cup in June, so DC area fans have had the opportunity to support Howard recently. But that still does not help those who purchased tickets specifically to see the North Brunswick, New Jersey native this week.
In the end, Howard does have some justification to extend his break, and it’s unfortunate that many will have paid to see Tim Howard with his club team. One hopes that these matches prove to be entertaining, and that fans will feel satisfied that their money was well spent.