10:45 am Aug. 16, 2012
When the history of U.S. Soccer is written, there will be a strong argument to be made that the best American player of this era (with all due respect to Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey) is Tim Howard.
He demonstrated his extraordinary value to the national team again on Wednesday night, thanks to a pair of miraculous saves that helped the United States win in Mexico for the first time ever, 1-0. Many of the other U.S. stars did not get called up, given the awkward proximity of the match to the start of European club play.
Howard, however, made the trip. And the U.S. couldn't have won without him.
Sure, he was protecting a 1-0 lead, the product a masterful combination of Brek Shea 1-on-1 play and a beautiful back-heel from Terrence Boyd. (Shea is 22, Boyd is 21; Howard debuted for the Metrostars when Boyd was seven years old.)
Howard's first save required him to adjust after a shot was deflected; his split-second body control, against his own momentum, gave him just enough time to flick the shot aside in the 84th minute. Five minutes later, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, who plays for Howard's former club, Manchester United, launched a header directly toward the goal with ample force. Again, Howard's quickness allowed him to get a hand out just in time, securing victory by the slimmest of margins.
Howard's tenure has been filled with a good deal of club team glory, from 45 matches in goal with Manchester United to nearly 200 appearances with Everton, including a goal. But the United States, with the exception of a 2009 victory over Spain, hasn't had a ton of success with Howard. No one blames him for things like the 2006 World Cup disappointment, when the United States failed to get out of its group. But a goalkeeper like Howard has deserved a bigger stage, and signature victory, for a while.
Overcoming 75 years, an 0-23-1 record, and securing, for the moment at least, bragging rights over the country's biggest regional rival (the match was a "friendly") isn't bad for a start. As the United States gears up for World Cup qualifying next month, in what could well be Howard's final chance to play in one, it's a useful time for him to be in this kind of form.