Tim Howard made his return to Major League Soccer official on Sunday, joining the Colorado Rapids at the start of the summer transfer window in July. On a conference call with reporters shortly after the announcement, Howard was pensive and reflective as ever, acknowledging that it’s been a difficult period for him since being dropped from the Everton lineup in early 2016.
“This is a very exciting day, [but] also a sad day,” Howard said in his opening remarks. “I’m leaving the club that I’ve known for most of my career.”
The United States international, whose record 16-save performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup round of 16 made worldwide headlines and even penetrated the stubborn American mainstream consciousness, hasn’t played a competitive match since a 2–1 loss to Swansea City on Jan. 24. Since then, Joel Robles took over the No. 1 shirt, leaving fans and media to speculate about the goalkeeper’s future.
After reports in February of a contract with Colorado lasting through the 2019 season worth at least $2.5 million per year, the deal was formally announced this weekend. Howard flew from England to join his new team briefly in Washington before making his way to U.S. camp for two World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala.
“It’s a new chapter that I’m looking forward to for so many different reasons,” he said. “When I spoke to all the people at Colorado … we discussed the challenges that lie ahead, we discussed the project that’s in place in trying to push this franchise forward. I’m excited about the challenge; it’s a huge challenge for everyone involved.”
The Rapids have finished near or at the foot of the Western Conference the last two seasons, coinciding with Howard’s former U.S. teammate Pablo Mastroeni taking over as head coach. In 2015, the team finished with a minus-10 goal difference, leaking 43 goals in 34 league matches.
Howard’s task will be turning that record around not just by keeping the ball out of the goal, but also through his general leadership. He’ll be the highest-paid goalkeeper in the league and a designated player in a position where teams don’t traditionally spend big money.
Nonetheless, Howard said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure simply because of that tag. Part of it is the nature of the goalkeeping position, a solitary role that often lends itself to self-reflection in a way that players might not feel if they touch the ball more often and their mistakes aren’t as magnified.
“In terms of pressure, there’s no more pressure than I put on myself on a weekly basis,” he said. “In terms of being a designated player, that doesn’t come with any added pressure for me.”
Still, he will be expected to be a leader on a team in need of a strong figure steering it in the right direction.
“Part of having experience is being able to use it, being able to help other players particularly when it comes to the team dynamic,” said Howard, who has 415 appearances for Everton since joining from Manchester United in 2006 and 106 international caps. “That, for me, is what I’ve taken away from being in the U.K. I’ve seen it where I’ve had really strong leadership, both at Manchester United and at Everton, and to know what that looks like, to be a powerful leader and to have guys who can captain the ship when things aren’t going well.”
To do so, Howard will have to overcome his recent lack of playing time that doesn’t look to be ending soon at the club level. He won’t be a guaranteed starter for the U.S., either. Although Brad Guzan is locked in what seems to be certain relegation with Aston Villa, he’s still getting regular matches.
Howard chooses to see his situation positively, though, saying that it’s kept him feeling physically fresh.
“My body’s great,” he said. “I stay in top physical condition. My experience takes care of itself, so actually, this short little break has been good for me. I feel great. I’m excited to get back on the field.”
Part of the appeal of playing in Colorado is extending his career beyond the 2018 World Cup, in which Howard still hopes to represent the U.S. His current deal with Everton was set to expire in ’18, but his Rapids contract, which Howard has said will be his final pro deal, runs until he turns 40 a year later.
While he will be admittedly sad to leave Everton, Howard will be glad to have a place where he should be the undisputed starter between the sticks.
“The possibility of extending my career an extra, nearly, two seasons is something that was for me, one of the major factors,” Howard said. “Sometimes, it’s business, and you have to make those decisions. … I’m human like everyone else. When [Colorado] came calling and laid out some of the ideas that they had, I was very interested in it.”