Tim Howard produced another highlight-reel exhibition of superior goalkeeping on March 11, 2017, proving once again - though no further proof is needed - that he is a superlative performer in his chosen field.
“I think on another day, any other ‘keeper, I think I score at least two,” said Bradley Wright-Phillips after the match. He watched Howard deny him on three occasions during a seven-save performance that made it quite clear why it is that the former MetroStar was a stalwart of the US Men’s National Team and the English Premier League for more than a decade.
“I think he was quality today. He kept them in the game ‘til the last minute, and that’s what you pay for. When you get someone like Tim Howard, that’s what you pay for - I guess you were right,” said BWP, acknowledging your correspondent’s description of Howard as “world class”.
BWP got to see up close what MetroStars fans remember well: the magnificent reach and reflexes of Tim Howard. Speaking to the second of the three saves he watched keep him scoreless for the match, Wright-Phillips had nothing but praise for his opponent: “I think he closed me down well, so I thought just get the ball off the ground and hit it hard - hit it true and hard. And from nowhere, his arm just comes out and makes a great save. Like I said, he was very good today.”
Very good indeed. Howard has been injured of late. At 38, any pro soccer player is in danger of losing out to younger competition, but his comeback start against RBNY should have settled the question of his claim to the starting role in Colorado, and has perhaps eased Bruce Arena’s concerns over which ‘keeper he should trust to back-stop USMNT’s key World Cup qualifying games later this month.
It is almost 20 years since Howard was a MetroStars man. The New Jersey native started out in MLS as back-up to Tony Meola after Zach Thornton was scooped up by the Chiago Fire in the 1998 Expansion Draft. He got one appearance in MLS that year, and a few more in 1999.
My clearest memory of his early years in the league is from the 2000 season. Howard was the starting ‘keeper for the Metros through three rounds of US Open Cup, before Paul Grafer took the start for the team’s ill-fated semi-final against Miami Fusion. But it was in a league game against Kansas City that he really stood out.
It was a nationally-televised match, broadcast from Arrowhead Stadium - then home of the Kansas City Wizards (as they were at the time). The Wizards were on their way to a Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup double - with Tony Meola in goal and on his way to being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. But the star of that day’s show was Howard.
In the second half of that match, he made three consecutive saves - seemingly within seconds of each other - to stymie the home side. He honestly looked like a hockey goalie: following a two-handed parry with two consecutive leg saves as he demonstrated his extraordinary ability to command his body through a quickfire series of gymnastic contortions.
The Wizards were relentless in attack, but Howard held firm and Clint Mathis bagged a late winner to make sure the Metros got full value for their ‘keeper’s work by winning 1-0.
We knew we were watching something special. So did MLS, who put Howard on a commercial that is burned into my memory: the Metros ‘keeper shaking his fists in celebration at saving a Chicago Fire penalty.
Alex Ferguson thought Howard was special too. In 2003, he snatched the MetroStars pride and joy up for Manchester United. We got to see Howard start in the FA Cup final in May 2004, and win a major trophy in England in his first season across the Atlantic.
He fell out of favor after that first season in Manchester, but a loan move to Everton in 2006 revived his fortunes in England’s top flight. Howard would be the Toffees starting ‘keeper for the best part of the next 10 seasons, as he also cemented his place as USMNT’s undisputed number one.
But Howard was once and will always be a Metro. He played for the club when it had a different name and a different home. March 11, 2017, was his first trip to Red Bull Arena for MLS play and the first time he’d faced his old team since he returned to the league.
And for 90 minutes, it was like he’d never left. Some of the saves he made were a reminder of those early days when it started to become clear that the MetroStars had found themselves a quality player who might develop into one capable of competing at the very highest levels of the game. It’s great to see Howard back in MLS, back where he started and where he belongs.
Keep on doing what you have been known for since growing up here in this league, Tim. Show that quality that you are known for and continue to be great.