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Tim Howard’s final match back home is backdrop to pivotal clash

The former MetroStars goalkeeper will make his last visit to Red Bull Arena as a professional on Saturday.

Colorado Rapids

The New York Red Bulls will look to get back on the positive side of results Saturday night when they face the Colorado Rapids, currently 11th place in the Western Conference. It’s a match they must win to avoid panic about their playoff position, considering the Rapids are by far the weakest of their remaining six opponents.

Adding to that is the fact that Saturday will be the final match at Red Bull Arena for North Brunswick, N.J., native and former MetroStars goalkeeper Tim Howard. When Howard came on the scene back in 1998 after Zach Thornton was selected in the expansion draft by the Chicago Fire, he took the league by storm.

“I’m a big fan of Tim Howard,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said. “Just seeing the path that he has taken, and equally as important the way he does it. Watching him when he played for the MetroStars and playing against him when he made some of those big saves against us at Naperville (Illinois), watching how he handled his business in Europe, what a talent he was. His last game playing at Red Bull Arena will be special.”

In 85 matches played over six seasons with the MetroStars, his record was 37-36-11. He will stand out for his agility and athleticism, but as Armas points out, his work ethic over his time with Manchester United, Everton and the U.S. National Team was as praiseworthy.

“What I remember most about Tim Howard, was when I was in camp with him for the National Team, watching after sessions during training, he set the standards on what goalkeeping should be with Kasey Keller, Tony Meola and Brad Friedel.

“Watching them up close, that’s what I remember about Tim Howard, how much pride he put in his work, how quick he was, and the details on not giving up rebounds, got to pounce on the balls. That’s who Tim Howard is.”

Current New York Red bulls midfielder Sean Davis remembers what Tim Howard did as a member of the MetroStars, as he was a kid who took in Howard’s performances at Giants Stadium and later followed his career in England.

“I was ten years old when Tim Howard transferred to Manchester United,” Davis said. “Me and my friends grew up watching the Premier League. When we saw a guy from our hometown team play for a top tier team like Manchester United, it inspired us. I remember that, and he’s had a great career, as I have nothing but respect for him and his career, and what he’s gone through. He is an iconic player to us.”

Howard is currently a member of the ownership group of USL Championship club Memphis 901 FC, and it will be interesting to see what ventures he embarks on once his playing career is officially over.

But back to the matter at hand, the Red Bulls will have to deal with the challenge of facing a Colorado Rapids team that made a coaching change last Sunday, hiring former Red Bulls and most recently Toronto FC assistant Robin Fraser, who replaced interim head coach Conor Casey.

The recent hire will make this match a high priority for Rapids players, as they try to go about impressing their new full time manager, who will look to break a rut the club has been in since winning MLS Cup back in 2010.

“I think we are aware of their situation, having a new manager as well as them being in what position they are in the Western Conference table, of course we analyze what we need to do against them,” Dani Royer said. “On the other hand, we can’t focus too much on them, as we need to bring our habits to the game and execute our game plan.

“A lot of concern for us, as I have been involved when sides bring in a new coach to the team, everyone wants to show up. The players want to show up for the new guy and there is plenty of motivation out there, as that should be happening, but we need to bring out our intensity as well.”

Very aware of the challenge, the Red Bulls know this match will not be easy, but three points are a must with only six matches remaining. New York needs to press and keep its foot on the gas pedal, and that will mean putting a couple or more past Howard, for the sake of climbing up the Eastern Conference table.