Tim Howard ends a career of individual brilliance but not much team glory

Four-and-a-half years and one World Cup qualifying disaster later, that night at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, is still the most recent World Cup venture for the US men’s team. Howard won’t be back. He announced on Tuesday the 2019 Major League Soccer season will be his last as a professional.With US stars Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey already enjoying retirement [editor’s note: shortly after the publication of this article, Landon Donovan announced he was coming out of retirement], this feels like the end of what has been, though it has had just as many valleys as peaks, the greatest era of US soccer.Christian Pulisic realises his dream by moving to the Premier League Read more

Howard’s reflexes were so well tuned, his awareness so keen, that in his prime he was able to parry an unwanted hug from a stranger in an airport just as easily as a thunderous shot from a Premier League striker. He starred for the old New York/New Jersey MetroStars in MLS from 1998 to 2003 before making a move to Manchester United.For someone to move from MLS to one of the world’s biggest clubs was a huge boon for US soccer but Howard lost his starting job to Edwin van der Sar. Things did improve though, and a successful loan spell with Everton resulted in a permanent move to Goodison Park, where he spent a decade with the Toffees and amassed more than 100 clean sheets and 28 appearances in Europe, the most of any player in club history. Across the pond, many new soccer fans who adopted English clubs (a Stateside phenomenon that occurs after every World Cup) chose Everton because of their national team’s number one. Howard wasn’t the first American goalkeeper to make his way in one of Europe’s top leagues. Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel preceded him, and Brad Guzan – really, what is America’s obsession with bald goalkeepers? – soon followed.But no US player has made such an impact with one Premier League club as Howard did at Everton, and for a time he was one of the best keepers in English football. Only now that Christian Pulisic has become a star at Borussia Dortmund and secured a move to Chelsea have any of his countrymen approached Howard’s level. Zack Steffen may never play for Manchester City, but his future is bright after signing for Pep Guardiola. Steffen can thank Howard for carrying the banner of American goalkeeping talent. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Tim Howard’s defining game came against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup. Photograph: Themba Hadebe/AP

Howard became first choice for the United States following the 2006 World Cup.His international career played out in similar fashion to his club exploits: individual brilliance coming without much team glory. He started and won the 2003 FA Cup final with Manchester United, but he would never win a trophy at Everton. The US won 2007 and 2017 Gold Cup titles, but while beating rival Mexico is always a reason to celebrate, Concacaf’s relative lack of depth means the tournament does not carry the same weight as continental competitions in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. The World Cup is the be-all and end-all for Americans, and despite Howard’s efforts, the national team has not progressed beyond the last 16 since a run to the quarters in 2002. At that tournament a bunch of young upstarts nearly toppled Germany to advance to the semi-finals, and the US appeared poised to be a regular contender.Howard rose to that top echelon, but the rest of the federation stagnated.

The twilight of Howard’s career has been hard to watch, as it usually is for heroes in their later years. He had lost a step in his last days with Everton, and he has probably lost one or two more in Colorado. He was in goal on 10 October 2017, when the US fell to that cataclysmic loss at Trinidad & Tobago and crashed out of World Cup qualifying. He used to play in front of massive crowds at hallowed grounds such as Goodison, Old Trafford, and Anfield. Now, he is witnessed most weeks by 15,000 or so spectators at venues such as Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Mapfre Stadium and SeatGeek Stadium. After a strong showing in Howard’s debut season, the Rapids have been among MLS’s worst teams over the past two years.It hasn’t been pretty, but Howard, a consummate professional, remains optimistic.

“For now, I am going to enjoy every minute,” he said on Tuesday of his upcoming final season. “And as I’ve always done, compete hard and help lead the Rapids with the sole purpose of winning.”