While the USA was knocked out of the FIFA World Cup by Belgium on Tuesday, the match introduced the world to a new American Hero, Tim Howard. The 35-year old Howard made a statement in the loss to the European team by stopping 16 shots on goal, the most saves in the tournament since FIFA began keeping records.
Howard dazzled fans in attendance and watching on TV for the first 93 minutes of the game, stopping every shot Belgium sent towards the US goal. Diving saves were met with cheers and Belgium just could not find a way past Howard. While the game went to extra time, the show that the US goalkeeper displayed was one for the ages.
The hero-like performance by Howard kept the hopes of American fans up that the US could survive into the next round of the FIFA World Cup. The defense in front of Howard did not look the same from previous games, and that may have led to the eventual downfall of the team. Real Salt Lake midfielder, Kyle Beckerman was on the bench. While not a straight defender, Beckerman made an impact in his three World Cup caps when the ball would end up in the US zone. Along with the other American defenders and midfielders, Beckerman assisted Howard with defense through the first three matches. Now with the dreadlocked American on the bench, the US midfield struggled with the Belgium counterparts and the task of stopping the ball fell upon Howard.
Howard, the oldest US player to start any of the 2014 games in Brazil, is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. A staple for Everton of the Barclay’s English Premier League, Howard has faced some of the best players in the world on a regular basis, preparing himself for the task as the national team goalkeeper. The task was a great one from the start. With the USA in the alleged Group of Death, moving on from group play was a long shot at best. The first game against Ghana was going to be the toughest task. The US had never defeated the African team, however, Howard stepped up and the squad won the first game 2-1. Next up was the number four team in the world, Portugal, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, considered the best player in the world, could not strike the ball past Howard. In 90 minutes of play, Howard held Portugal to one goal and looked to keep the score at 2-1 and advance the team to the next round until a last second cross from Ronaldo to a diving teammate drove the ball past Howard for the equalizer. Still, drawing with Portugal was a tremendous success for the goalkeeper.
Against Germany, Howard face Thomas Müller, who had a hat trick in the first game against Portugal. It was a rainy day and every shot was turned away by Howard except for one. A shot launched directly at the goalkeeper was blocked and deflected away. As Howard rushed to return to his feet, the ball went right to Müller for the score. The only goal the number two team in the world could muster against the USA. Another successful outing by Howard and the USA. The world had doubted that the USA would move on to the Round of 16, but they did. It was an unthinkable going into the match against Belgium that the US would find a way into the Round of 8. However, with the unbelievable performance by Howard, for all of regulation time, the keeper started to sway the world believe in the USA. And then two quick goals and the magical ride the United States was on came to an abrupt end.
Unfortunately for USA fans, Howard may not be wearing the American colors for the next World Cup in four years. It is likely there will be a new goalkeeper defending for the United States in Russia when the next World Cup rolls around. Howard will be 39-years old and just ending his current contract with Everton. At that age, it is not a shoe in that the goaltender would be a part of the team or even receive an invite to camp. The chance is there for Howard to be part of the team in Russia, but likely on the bench as a back-up. There is still a chance for US soccer fans to cheer on Howard in-goal for the US again before the next World Cup.
Quite a few US soccer fans do not realize that the World Cup is not the only time for national team soccer. Not a country that recognizes soccer as the top sport in the world, US fans are unaware that while the world tournament only comes around every four years, there are tournaments and matches going on that fill the void between World Cups. This September the US has a match against the Czech Republic in Prague, and it is likely that the team will have a tour of friendlies around the United States once the tournament is over. The summer of 2015 will be the next CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, which the USA won in 2013, and World Cup qualifying matches will start-up before people realize it. The US will also likely be competing in the 2016 Olympics, however, it will not be the same team from Brazil due to Olympic age restrictions for players. There is a chance that one of the three players that can be older than 23-years of age will be the newest American hero from the FIFA World Cup, Tim Howard.
Commentary by Carl Auer