Tim Howard is best known to the public for his record 15-save performance in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 2-1 extra time defeat to Belgium at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The “Secretary of Defense” stunned the world with stops that ranged from routing to spectacular.
While that performance was no doubt incredible, it’s often when a goalkeeper faces only one or two key moments during 90 minutes where they demonstrate their mettle. The ability to deal with long stretches of inactivity while always staying on the ready when a big save needs to be made is what separates the good from the great.
Howard’s ability in that department has been on display at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The veteran goalkeeper may only have a combined three saves in his two matches in the tournament thus far, but all of them have been nothing short of critical to the USA’s advancement to the Final.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more patient. As a goalkeeper, I try and be ready for those moments,” Howard told ussoccer.com on Sunday.
Those chances can of course come at different times. In Wednesday’s Quarterfinal against El Salvador, Howard was called into action just three minutes in as a soft back pass allowed Rodolfo Zelaya a clear lane to goal before he alertly came off his line to make the save.
Against Costa Rica, the USA’s dominance in possession left Howard largely untested for large portions of the first half. That was until a sizzling run from Bryan Ruiz pushed Marco Ureña through on goal, but again Howard was there to make a sharp kick save on the 37th minute attempt.
With the game still at 0-0 and only 19 minutes remaining before a penalty shootout would determind the winner, Howard was called into action again when Ureña got on the end of a through ball out of the back and beat his mark, only to have the veteran netminder come off his line to make a diving stop. The save kept things level, and within a minute the U.S. MNT was down at the other end celebrating Jozy Altidore’s eventual game-winner.
The performances lifted Howard’s all-time record at the confederation championship to 10-0-2, earning him his seventh and eighth career clean sheets in the process.
Always vocal at the back, Howard said that part of the exercise is communicating with the defenders in front of him, but it’s also to keep himself alert at all times.
“When the ball isn’t nearby, I’m trying to communicate and put guys in the right position. I scream and yell a lot and people think that’s for everyone else, but sometimes that’s for me, to keep me focused and sharp and ready.”
And at the end of the day, Howard says all the routines and preparation only work if the big moments end in a save.
“Ultimately you have to make the big saves. You can do all the other stuff, and if you don’t make the saves it matters for nothing. The keys are being ready, being patient, lots of communication, talking, and understanding danger moments. The easy part, the bread and butter, is making the save.”