Throughout qualifying and even into the tournament itself, there were questions about who would line up along the US back four. Pundits, fans, and even Klinsmann himself went through the combinations, looking for the perfect balance. The one thing those four players have going for them is that the name of the man between the sticks is never in question.
On June 16, Tim Howard gave another in a long line of outstanding performances. Beaten only once by one of the best worked goals of the tournament so far, Howard kept his head under the pressure of the USA’s crucial opening match and kept the team in the game. Ghana rained shots on the US goal and Howard was there, sweeping up behind the overworked defense. USA beat Ghana 2-1.
A recently minted USMNT centurion, Howard continues the proud tradition of excellent American keepers. Catching the eye of national youth team coaches early, Howard has been a professional since graduating high school, moving through the ranks at the New York MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls) and Manchester United before finding a home on Merseyside with Everton in 2006. Since arriving, he’s become a fan favorite, setting a club record for most clean sheets in a season and was just two games shy of equaling the club record for consecutive starts. In England, he’s the veteran the younger Americans rally around. For those new to the country and the leagues, Howard offers support, advice, and even a place to live. Off the pitch Howard is an advocate for those with Tourette’s syndrome. Being diagnosed as a child, he has worked to overcome it, improbably forging a new secondary career as a color commentator for NBC’s coverage of the Premier League.
Howard’s style of play for club and country is exactly what you need when the back line is constantly rotating. A great shot-stopper and physically commanding presence in the box, Howard is famously vocal, constantly organizing, alerting, encouraging and critiquing. Against Portugal on Sunday, these skills will be vital to help the defense cope with Portugal’s pace off the wings, the lethal through-balls of Joao Moutinho and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Arriving at Manchester United at the same time, playing in the first team together, Howard has had plenty of first hand experience of Ronaldo’s ability. Time has passed but having that experience of playing with and against even a still young Ronaldo should be helpful in giving the defense any edge they can when the whistle blows to kick off the match in Manaus.
At Candlestick Park on a very cold Tuesday night, while watching the team continue to kick the tires of the diamond formation, my friends and I were having the same conversations I’m sure many US fans were having. Donovan, the new formation, Jozy and the rest of the squad. Finally we got around to wondering who would be the main men, the players on whom the fortunes of the US would turn when things got underway in Brazil. Without hesitating I pointed to Howard, our keeper, his voice booming even in the wind whipping through the stadium as he bowled the ball out and urged the team on.