ussoccer.com: What’s the question you are most tired of answering?
Kyle Beckerman: How long have you been growing your dreads? (laughs) The answer is seven or eight years.
ussoccer.com: You’ve been a part of this qualifying campaign from start to finish. What have been your impressions overall?
KB: “First off, it’s been a lot of fun. There have been really enjoyable challenges, from going to Antigua and playing in the monsoon to coming and playing in Salt Lake in front of our home crowd. It’s been a really cool journey and one I’ll never forget.”
ussoccer.com: A new coach and new cycle brings different challenges. Now two years in, how would you say you have been impacted?
KB: “Going through this always teaches you a little bit about the competition we have in this region. This round has shown that the other countries in CONCACAF are getting stronger. For me, I just have more experience now than I did before.
ussoccer.com: Your roles with Real Salt Lake and the National Team are somewhat different. How do you deal with the transition of moving between different environments?
KB: “The biggest thing for me is the similarities that I’m going to bring to Salt Lake and here, and that’s going in every day and training or playing with the same intensity, the same energy, and really bringing it. No matter if you’re the captain, the biggest leader or a newcomer, it goes a long way. That’s what I try to do, especially coming in here. More than anything, it’s working hard and putting it in every day. When you come into the National Team, the quality of play is amazing, and that’s what makes it so much fun.
ussoccer.com: Jurgen always says that’s why you are a guy he wants to call in all the time, saying you bring it every day and are a ‘pure giver’. It’s been the case in the last two years that for as many times as you’ve played, you’ve also come in and not gotten time. How do you manage to continue to bring the same intensity, energy and attitude?
KB: “I’ve realized you can only control what you can control. For me, that means my effort and what I give every day. If I’m not playing, I’m not going to sit there and pout. I’m going to try and go to practice and make it tougher on the guys who are playing so when they get to the game it’s easier for them. If I’m playing, it’s to get ready to make the job of the guys around me easier. It’s not hard – it’s the National Team, and it’s an honor any time you get to be part of the squad. For my mindset, it’s just to be ready no matter what your role is. I want to be ready for whatever comes my way.”
ussoccer.com: That seems like an easy approach, but that also takes a mental strength not every player is able to maintain. Where does that mentality come from for you?
KB: “It comes from my parents and the way they raised me and my brother. Also, being involved in wrestling growing up and doing that and soccer side by side was huge. The discipline that came with wrestling is still something that has stayed with me.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve been known to break out a guitar or ukulele on some of these trips. What attracts you to playing music?
KB: “First off, I like music. I really enjoy listening to it. I look at it almost like a language. It’s cool the more you practice and the more you speak it, you become better and more comfortable. It’s a good hobby to have. It’s similar to golf for me where people play for a really long time and keep getting better and better.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve also been asked a lot if the World Cup is a like a carrot dangling in front of you. Doesn’t the answer seem obvious?
KB: “It does. I get asked ‘when do you think about the World Cup the most, and I say ‘when people ask me about it.’ With our sport, you always have to do the next thing. If you win one game, you have to be ready to win the next. If you get one call up, you have to try to get the next one. A lot of people who don’t follow soccer don’t understand you always have to prove yourself to get called in. You start to think that now the World Cup is getting closer since we’ve qualified, it’s right around the corner. But it’s still quite a long way away, so it’s something you stick in the back of your mind. It’s exciting when you think maybe I could be on that team, but there is so much work to be done still, and that’s what keeps me from thinking about it too much.”
ussoccer.com: Before we sat down, we were talking about World Cup preparation plans and you said ‘I have to get there first.’ Does the fact that you were in the mix last time around and didn’t make it keep you from looking too far ahead?
KB: “I guess it’s because I’ve never been this close to making it. For a while, the National Team was really done for me, and I didn’t think it was going to come back. When Jurgen came and it was a second chance, I wanted to run with it and really take advantage of the opportunity put in front of me. It’s the unknown, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself and say I’m going to be there, but at the same time I also want to have the possibility in the back of my mind. This is what we are all working so hard for.”
Reflecting in the autumn of a career inevitably requires a glimpse at its outset. Tim Howard wasn’t quite Tim Howard back then. The formative moments in his career loomed half a career and half a world away.
Those first few steps for a Jersey kid at a Jersey club involved the inevitable fits and starts for a young goalkeeper over the course of five years, but they coalesced when one of the world’s largest clubs wanted to whisk him away to the Premier League.
Even at that critical point before the century of caps, the indelible place in the American soccer firmament and the decade of success at Everton, Howard grasped the magnitude of the challenge ahead at Manchester United. He always wanted to play in Europe. He always knew his preferred path wound through those famous English grounds and those magnificent European nights.
As a former Metrostars goalkeeper preparing to make the leap to Old Trafford, Howard appreciated the pioneers who made it possible. His talent and his potential earned him the move, but the success of other American goalkeepers smoothed the way for it.
“When I first came over, it was certainly helpful to me as a young goalkeeper who had no experience, who had no reputation, who didn’t have a name for himself to have great goalkeepers like Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel and Marcus Hahnemann,” Howard told ussoccer.com earlier this year. “It was basically those guys who allowed the club to take a chance on me because they knew American goalkeepers had what it takes.”
Howard and Everton visited the U.S. in 2009 to face off with Keller and the MLS All Stars.
Howard (left) and Friedel meet in league play during the 2010 EPL season.
Howard suffered through the same trials and tribulations of his predecessors. He did not emerge as that steady, trusted figure overnight. He needed three halting, informative years at Manchester United to navigate through that adjustment period and wind his way to where he ultimately belonged.
It took a loan spell at Goodison Park for Howard to find permanent footing in England and locate the right situation for the achievements to follow.
“When I got here, the second I walked through the door, I knew I wanted to be a part of this club, part of the fabric,” Howard said. “I wanted to be considered – at some point before I left – an Evertonian because this is where my heart is.”
Howard became a fan favorite at Everton Football Club where he spent the longest stretch of his professional club career.
More than anything, that heart showed every time Howard stepped between the sticks. He followed in the steady footsteps of Friedel – another American with a penchant for featuring every week and producing all of the necessary saves at the right time – and solidified himself in the team more and more with each passing year.
Every stride reinforced the last. The accolades accumulated. The international honors piled up. The roles strengthened on the field and in the locker room. And Howard emerged as an influential figure with the sort of staying power often elusive at that lofty level.
“He’s fantastic,” Everton captain Phil Jagielka said. “He’s great to have behind you. His ability as a goalkeeper over the last nine years that I’ve played with him has been amazing. The standards he’s set for himself, and to keep those standards for such a long time, it’s going to be a massive miss when he goes over to the States.”
Slowly and surely, Howard wove himself into the fabric for both club and country. The successes coincided: a pair of World Cups as the number one – and one magnificent night against Belgium – and more than 100 caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team on one hand, a protracted run of 210 consecutive starts and a century of clean sheets for Everton on the other.
This symbiotic relationship between Howard, Everton and the United States continued more or less until its conclusion. There were diversions along the way, the inevitable stopping off points from time to time. Those modest hiccups never undermined the strength of that relationship. It merely underscored the benefits of it for everyone involved until its natural stopping point arrived at the end of this Premier League season.
“Coming to work every day at this club and making it my home, I dreamed about playing for a club that I could be a part of, a club that meant something to me,” Howard said. “For that club to be Everton, 10 years later, that’s all I wanted to do and all I wanted to accomplish.”Read more