This interview appeared in the March 3 edition of SI. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.
Tim Howard was a fixture on the U.S. men's national team long before last year’s round of 16 in Brazil, but then the goalkeeper set the World Cup single-game saves record of 15 against Belgium and vaulted to a new level of recognition—social media memes, magazine covers, even a deal for his own memoir. That book, The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them, tells the story of a New Jersey kid who jumped from MLS to mighty Manchester United and, eventually, into the folklore of U.S. soccer. SI caught up with Howard for a wide-ranging World Cup postscript.
SI: So many people in the U.S.—beyond just soccer fans—saw the Belgium game. How has that game changed your life?
Tim Howard: I was 35 in Brazil; I was in a good place, physically and mentally. How have things changed? They really haven’t. I’ve always felt like I’ve been grounded. I don’t miss days of work. I don’t take those things for granted. [Before the game] soccer fans knew us inside and out, but mainstream America, non–soccer fans, stepped up and took notice. That’s what I’m most proud of. Tony [Meola], Tab [Ramos], John [Harkes], Alexi [Lalas]—those guys brought soccer to the forefront, made people take notice. My generation will be the one, I hope, that got stockbrokers and businesspeople to take longer lunches and watch the games.
SI: What’s your favorite part from your talk with President Obama after that game?
TH: He told me to shave my beard. He said I’d be less recognizable that way. I didn’t heed his advice, unfortunately. Lesson No. 1: Always listen to the President.
SI: Seven weeks later you announced you were taking a yearlong break from the national team. Why?
TH: It was 100% family-oriented. With my grueling [club schedule], I don’t get to see my two kids as often as I’d like. The one window of opportunity is during international breaks. I realized this would be a good chance for me during the season and in the summer to get a long extended time with my kids. That was the sole reason. I felt hungrier and more motivated than ever from that World Cup experience, and I would love nothing more than to get back out there.
But I have to make decisions as a parent and as a person. I had good conversations with [U.S. coach] Jurgen [Klinsmann] in that decision-making process.
SI: Do you plan to make yourself available to the national team this fall, when World Cup 2018 qualifying starts?
TH: Oh, yeah. I’ll be available for selection, as long as Jurgen decides he wants me. I know how grueling World Cup qualifying is and how exciting it can be. The thought of another run in ’18 makes me salivate.
SI: Everton was so good last season that expectations were really high heading into 2014–15. This year hasn’t been easy. [Everton is currently 14th in the Premier League] What’s the team experiencing?
TH: Last year [after a coaching changeover] we clicked right away. This year teams have had time to prepare for us. We’re not a new entity anymore. They’ve tried different ways to defend us. The reality is: This is the best team in terms of depth and quality that I’ve played on [in nine seasons] at Everton. We’re focusing on being tougher, more in your face, making sure our team’s in the fight. The rest will come. It’s a long, grueling season, and really, you’re only judged at the end. It doesn’t matter what gets said in between.
SI: One thing I learned from your book is that when Manchester United recruited you from the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, in 2003, MLS did not initially accept its offer. You had to dip into your own pocket to cover the difference, which is stunning to me.
TH: It was stunning to me too. [Laughs.] But I was going to move heaven and earth to make that happen. If I had to skimp on the front end and lose out on some cash, I was confident enough in my own abilities to make it up on the back end tenfold.
That was my thought process: I need to get to England, and if all goes well, I won’t be missing the money I had to contribute on the front end.
Nothing was going to stand in my way. It seems crazy, but what was I going to do—stick around here for a while?
SI: You also write that your pursuit of greatness made staying married difficult. [Howard divorced in 2012 after a nine-year marriage.] Is that more common among top-level athletes than most people realize?
TH: I think so. The divorce rate among athletes is staggering. You see that, and you have to figure out why. There’s a lot of pressure to be the best. It becomes like a drug, and some people can manage that. Others find it difficult. I found it difficult. Doing the things I wanted to do came at a heavy cost. But you have to make decisions in life and work through them.
SI: For a first-time author, what was the process like?
TH: Different than I imagined. A lot more goes into a book than just telling your story. That’s part of it, but getting all the fine details? It’s amazing how you really have to wrack your brain to remember the ins and outs of life. It was fun. But it wasn’t therapeutic in any way. I didn’t need any therapy.
SI: Meanwhile, you’re doing Premier League commentary for NBC. It’s pretty rare for active players to do that on their own league. How has that worked out for you so far?
TH: When I had my initial talks with NBC, that was the big discussion: I was never going to slaughter a player on TV, because I know what goes into making plays or not making plays, and there’s a way to get that point across without chastising a player. Soccer is a game of turnovers, of mistakes and capitalizing on those mistakes. I have to walk a line. I feel like I’ve found a good balance; hopefully I don’t ever screw that up.
SI: We’ve gotten so familiar with you over the years that it’s easy to forget you have Tourette’s syndrome. What sort of work have you been doing with that disorder?
TH: I don’t forget I have it when I wake up every day. [Laughs.] It’s a continual process; it never stops. Creating awareness is the easiest job in the world because I’m in people’s faces—I’m on television, and it’s not something I can hide. One of the things we’ve done is create an advocacy awareness academy at Rutgers. We’ve brought in coaches and leaders to help young people live their everyday lives and advocate for themselves.
These kids have to go to school and play sports and live in a community where people don’t always understand what TS is. We try to give them tools to help in that process.
Critiquing every MLS uniform, head to toe
New York City FC
New York City FC took some heat for its sky blue home shirt, which looks a whole lot like the one worn by parent/sister club Manchester City. But an homage was inevitable, and NYCFC has differentiated itself from MCFC, and the rest of MLS, with the white shorts and socks. It’s a sharp look. The away kit, highlighted by a flash of orange (from the city flag) at the neck and five stripes you can barely see that "represent the five boroughs of New York City," is lazy. With a blank template, NYCFC should’ve come up with something other than the mono-black already worn in D.C. and Columbus.
After several overhauls—LA wore black and teal, then teal and yellow, then yellow and green—the Galaxy’s white and blue brand has taken root. Three championships in four years certainly help. The sash on the home uniform, re-introduced in 2012, has quickly become iconic, and, along with the socks, helps make this all-white kit stand out. The new secondary set maintains the same feel as its recent predecessors. The yellow accents look sharp, but we can’t help but feel a white or yellow sash would tie the uniforms and brand together.
Of the four MLS teams with an all-red home uniform (that’s 20 percent of the league), the Fire were first. They’re the “Men in Red,” after all. But Chicago began veering away from its traditional look in 2012. First the famous white hoop became blue. Then last year, the blue expanded to the chest and shoulders. It doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t seem right, either. The new away kit is another all-white offering. But at least designers put a bit of thought into this one. The thin, light blue hoops on the shirt and socks, intended to reflect the design of the city flag, are a nice touch.
Montreal exemplifies MLS/Adidas’ fixation on tiny details rather than the impact (sorry) a uniform makes when viewed from more than three feet away, which is where most people watch a game. The new away kit features a tiny silver fleur-de-lis affixed to the back and more woven subtly into the fabric. But overall, it’s just another anonymous all-white uniform that mirrors the existing, plain blue primary set. The tragedy is that Montreal’s gorgeous blue-and-black striped alternate, which would be the only striped kit in MLS, is gathering dust. It should be the club’s primary.
D.C. United calls itself the “Black and Red,” but its uniform palette typically has ignored the latter. That’s been rectified with the club’s new secondary kit, which features a welcome splash of red on the traditional white jersey. The home uniform, which carries over from 2014, still looks unfinished without the white chest stripes that were dropped in 2008. If D.C. could find a way to re-introduce them, perhaps above the sponsor logo and behind the crest, it once again would boast one of the sport’s most distinctive designs.
Real Salt Lake
RSL stubbornly refuses to look great. It took a small step forward with its new secondary uniform, which now features two blue sleeves. It's too bad there isn’t even more of RSL’s beautiful claret, cobalt, and gold color scheme in the kit. The red home set carries over from 2014, making it six seasons since RSL abandoned the claret shirt, cobalt shorts/socks combo it wore when winning its only MLS title. The yellow chest stripe adds a little something extra, but RSL’s preference for an all-red kit similar to others around the league instead of a classy, one-of-a-kind look with championship pedigree is baffling.
Toronto FC’s new home set could be the reddest uniform in the history of a league that loves red uniforms, which we suppose is noteworthy (guess Adidas insisted on the contrasting three stripes). Club management has focused on building a team capable of ending an eight-year playoff drought, likely leaving little time for kit design. The holdover secondary set is charcoal gray, which features in the TFC logo and is a unique uniform color in MLS. The hooped socks finish off a striking look and make us wish there was a bit more gray in the primary.
New England Revolution
The Revs are Exhibit A for the effect a second color, even if it comes from something as mundane as a plain pair of shorts, has on a club’s brand. Long a believer in boring, N.E. last year overhauled its home blues with white shorts and hooped socks. It’s a classy yet instantly recognizable look. The image shake-up continued Tuesday with a new secondary kit inspired by the regional flag flown during the American Revolution. The red-and-white set is clunky and geometric, but it’s different, daring and local. Better to take a chance than look dull and anonymous.
The Union got it right in 2010. The inaugural navy kit with the gold center stripe, reflecting the Philadelphia flag, was iconic. The gold-and-blue away set, a reversal of the primary, was one-of-a-kind. The holdover home uniform still looks great, although the sponsor’s logo wrecks the balance. But the new secondary is a disaster, a needless departure from the brand and an 10th all-white MLS kit. Once innovators, the Union are now followers. The “WE ARE ONE” collar slogan, the tiny snake below the neckline and the embossed stars on the front are lost in a sea of white.
The Vancouver Whitecaps new primary uniform is meant to be experienced up close. It’s slogan heavy. “Our All. Our Honour.” appears inside the neck and on the hip. “SINCE 1974” is on the back. The thin, diagonal pinstripes that featured on the previous home kit have been replaced by light blue shading designed to represent Vancouver’s water and mountains. It’s all a bit too subtle. The shirt will look nice with jeans, but in the end, Vancouver’s all-white kit—and the holdover mono-navy secondary—simply blends in.
Portland quietly switched crests, from a logo featuring its name to a simpler version focusing on the axe and chevrons (the old logo lives on elsewhere). Few teams wear a badge with no writing, but the Timbers can because they’ve built such a powerful brand. Only they could wear the new home set, a bold green-and-white offering anchored by the chevrons. They're a bit wide, and the yellow below the collar clutters the shirt, but it's impressive overall. The road kit, released in 2014, is everything a good one should be: distinctive, perhaps edgy, yet connected to the club. In this case, Rose City red.
The Crew released new home and away sets featuring the club’s revamped logo, a roundel that looks nice enough but makes sense only with a cheat sheet. The explanations (the ‘O’ for Ohio, the founding year, the checkerboard pattern found in flags waived by fans) certainly tie the club to Columbus more than the goofy construction workers did. As the Crew forge ahead, they’ll stay true to their sartorial tradition. The all-yellow primary is simple but elegant, and certainly recognizable. The mono black secondary could use a bit of flourish–why so subtle with the checkers? But it works and shouldn't be needed that often, anyway.
Orlando City SC
The Lions’ love for purple is welcome in a league featuring so many similar looks. But it didn't result in creative inaugural kits. The home uniform features more up-close details, like “jacquard engineered banding…representing Orlando City’s transition to a new era” and even the club's old USL logo inside. The mono-white secondary has colored hoops on the waist and sleeves and includes more small symbols and slogans. But it’s still just another white set. The answer is obvious—swap the socks. The “Chelsea” look is underrated. White hosiery at home and purple on the road would make all the difference.
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls have company in New York so have set out to reinforce their tenuous connection to the market within the constraints of the club’s corporate brand. The only white-red-white team in the league, RBNY now must compete with NYCFC’s pale blue. The Red Bulls’ new home set doubles down on that contrast with red sleeves and “NEW YORK” emblazoned on the shirt’s lower left in a manner “mimicking the iconic New York skyline.” The “EST.1996” on the back collar reminds fans who was there (or nearby) first. The holdover secondary definitely is unique and is great in reasonable doses.
Houston’s club motto is “Forever Orange,” and while that remains the cornerstone of the brand, the Dynamo typically add a wrinkle here and there to ensure we’re not beaten over the head with it. The new home uniform is a great example. The white shorts and checkered fade on the jersey add the right amount of contrast. On occasion, the Dynamo have worn monochrome both home and away. But there’s no need to do so, especially on the road. The balance in the primary kit and the immediately identifiable orange shorts with the secondary set showcase the Dynamo at their best.
Sporting Kansas City
From irrelevant to trendsetting, SKC has profited from one of the most successful sports rebrands in recent history. The club now must share light blue with NYCFC, but Sporting still stands out. The new home set is a departure form the bicolor “state line” uniform of 2013-14 and is anchored by a “fashion-forward window pane pattern” that’s almost as preppy as the recent argyle alternate kit. The secondary uniform is stunning. The hoops, which mirror the stripes on the club crest, highlight one of the most eye-catching sets in MLS history. It’ll be tough to see it go after this season.
FCD’s kits are an example of a good idea, poorly executed. The club made an inspired decision to go with hoops when rebranding in 2005, but the jerseys always let them down. Unnecessary seams, plackets and panels always ruined the shirt. Dallas gave up last year and went with a boring all-red primary. But it stuck with the hoops on the new blue-and-white secondary, where the side panels and sleeves still disrupt the flow. Both blue and white shorts are an option. Our 2016 ideal: a primary jersey with seamless, sleek red and blue hoops. Unique and colorful, but less jarring. Make it happen.
Another club that’s bounced from brand to brand (green-and-white, blue-and-black), the Rapids have settled in nicely with the unique but elegant burgundy-shirt, white-shorts combo. The sleeves, which mirror those worn by sister club Arsenal, add a subtle touch of flair. The new away uniform is a prime example of how a secondary kit can be tasteful and connect to a club’s brand. Last season’s mono blue state-flag set has evolved into a sharp gold-and-blue kit that maintains Colorado's colors and stands out from the crowd. We’re not fans of recolored badges—logos should be sacrosanct—but overall it’s a winner.
The club that brought us rave green, cascade shale, super cyan and electricity has succumbed to the all-white virus. Seattle is one of five MLS clubs to adopt the look this season, ensuring half the league now embraces the white-out copout. The Sounders new away kit is especially devoid of any personality—a surprising choice for a club that has much of it. The new home set features a less cluttered shirt than in seasons past. It’s a template, but it’s a step up. The uniform also features blue shorts and socks for the first time. Here’s hoping we see it as often as possible.
San Jose Earthquakes
"Earthquakes" is an appropriate moniker for a club that’s experienced so much upheaval. While the new Avaya Stadium offers stability, the brand remains in flux. SJ’s '14 overhaul produced a beautiful blue-and-black primary kit that’s already a modern classic. But the logo, awkwardly anchored by “Quakes”—a nickname of a nickname—lacks gravitas. We liked the re-introduction of the NASL-era red, which inspired last year’s away kit. That’s been replaced by a new white secondary set (yes, another one). It lacks the creativity, individuality and ambition that should be associated with a Bay Area club on the rise.