The U.S. has produced some world-class goalkeepers over the years, none more accomplished than
Chosen as the top goalkeeper at the Confederations Cup in June, Howard kept the Americans in the game against Brazil in the final, making save after acrobatic save before the Brazilians finally pushed through for a 3-2 come-from-behind victory. As the U.S. closes in on a World Cup berth, needing only two points from two qualifiers next month (or just a tie in the finale against Costa Rica), this much has become clear: If Howard is playing well, then the Allies -- whoops, the Americans -- always have a chance.
For me, at least, it's hard to believe that Howard is now 30 years old, or that six years have passed since he burst onto the global soccer scene as an unknown 24-year-old Jersey guy with Tourette's syndrome who somehow leaped from MLS to the starting gig at Manchester United. (For more gratuitous
Howard didn't stay with Manchester United, but since joining Everton in '06, he has been one of the Premiership's steadiest goalkeepers, helping the Toffees finish fifth last season while also reaching the FA Cup final (thanks to a couple big penalty saves by Howard against Man. United in the semifinals).
Howard should be in the goal when Everton plays its first game in the Europa League group stage against AEK Athens on Thursday. Last week I sat down with the U.S.' first-choice keeper in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where we discussed the U.S. World Cup qualifying effort, the three most dangerous forwards he has faced and Howard's contention that U.S. goalkeeping isn't what it used to be. Here's an edited version of our interview:
I just think you become more comfortable with your surroundings. For me as a goalkeeper, I stopped going to look for things. You see a lot of young goalkeepers trying to run out and make plays. I did that a lot when I was younger. I've learned to just be more patient and sit back and let the game come to me. That has basically been my confidence saying when the play does come to me I'm going to be ready, willing and able, and capable to deal with it. Whereas when you're younger you're thinking, "Oh, the closer they get to the goal, the more chance they're going to score, so I'm just going to go and make things happen."
Another thing that may sound silly, but when you talk about goalkeeping, your angle plays get so much better. You look at Friedel and some of the best goalkeepers in the world, when a striker comes into the box and they take up an angle, it's almost like there's no chance of beating them because their angles are so good. That's based on experience, on seeing shooters at the highest levels coming in at certain positions and knowing where they're going to go.
And of course
He had pace, but he wasn't nearly as physical or rumble-tumble as those other guys. But he knew where the holes were. He was almost like a phantom. He just popped up. He got in between defenders and pulled out wide. Obviously, he was a center forward, but next thing you know he's pulled out wide and he's got your right back one-on-one because he loved to pull out to the right side. With all of these guys, they have a nose for the goal.
But that was never really the issue. You had two guys who were outstanding. That was it, really. I was fortunate to go over at the tail end of that, but I wasn't really in that generation. They're 10 years older than me.
Is it an issue now? I think the issue has always been there. You had one, two, three individuals who have gone over and made a mark.
The crazy thing going into our season is our best three players are injured until October or November. [He was referring to