On July 4, 2016, Tim Howard made his return to Major League Soccer, debuting with his new team the Colorado Rapids in a match against the Portland Timbers. Normally, only paid subscribers are able to access games on MLS Live, but Major League Soccer decided to stream the game on its website in order to draw more attention to Howard and the league itself.
Howard allowed MLS to make him its newest publicity stunt, and it only cost $8 million ($2.29 million per year for 3.5 years). While everyone says he will benefit the club as a player (I’m sure he will), likely the biggest reason to sign Howard was to use his household name to sell more tickets and merchandise. MLS has a pattern of signing retirement-age players to boost ticket and merchandise sales such as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba, and Andrea Pirlo.
The Colorado Rapids needed to fill seats, but not a goal net. The team’s 2016 regular season began with a qualified player to guard the net — Zac MacMath, his MLS career started in 2011 for the Philadelphia Union where he excelled for four years. According to his official MLS profile, in 2014 at age 23 he “became the youngest goalkeeper in MLS history to reach 100 career starts.” In 2015, he replaced Clint Irwin as the Colorado Rapids goalkeeper. MacMath then started each of the first sixteen games of 2016 and played quite well, yet all of that success amounts to nothing if the Rapids bench him for the rest of the season and decide not to trade or loan him.
Instead of allowing their young goalkeeper to flourish, the Rapids signed Tim Howard in March 2016 and immediately benched MacMath when the 37-year-old finished his stint with the USMNT during Copa America Centenario. Howard struggled with Everton during the 2014-2015 and the club benched him for parts of the 2015-2016 season, playing Joel Robles instead. Yet, Howard automatically became the starting goalkeeper upon his arrival in Colorado even though his final season with Everton showed his diminishing quality in a higher-level skilled league than MLS.
Goal recently interviewed MacMath after the announcement, and he showed his discontent when he told them, “At the end of the day, for me it’s about playing and getting better each game and that obviously won’t happen if Tim Howard is here.” Unfortunately, the Union also benched him to start Algerian World Cup player Rais M’Bolhi and it led to MacMath’s loan and eventual transfer to the Rapids.
MacMath deserves better than what MLS has offered him. They chose to sign big names to draw spectators over letting him gain experience after showing substantial success as a starter. It shows where MLS places its priorities and I hope another team sees and believes in MacMath’s potential enough to transfer him from the Rapids and actually start the young player. The Rapids need to trade MacMath instead of holding him hostage.
Tim Howard will likely start every game for the rest of this MLS season because the club cannot afford to not play him due to his $8 million dollar price tag. The blatant disregard for MacMath and his success should be a warning for future players.
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