Landon Donovan was voted the Best United States Men's Soccer Player of All Time, but with all due respect to Landon, and those who voted for him, that's just incorrect. That honor should belong to the "American Secretary of Defense," goalkeeper Tim Howard. Long before the Christian Pulisic's and Gio Reyna's of the world played for big clubs like Dortmund and Chelsea, the North Brunswick, New Jersey-born Howard was a bonafide American soccer hero on the international stage at clubs like Manchester United and Everton. The most capped goalkeeper in USMNT history, Timmy is responsible for the two greatest Men's National Team moments of recent memory. From Major League Soccer to the Premier League and back, Howard had a playing career that many would be envious of.
In 1991, when Tim Howard was 12, a former assistant coach for United States Soccer's U-17 program saw him playing at a coaching session, saw great potential and started giving Howard free coaching. A few years later, a former professional goalkeeper named Peter Mellor saw Howard at an Olympic Development Player camp and quickly placed him in the Olympic Development Program, which would ultimately lead to him joining the USMNT U-17 squad.
By 1997, that former assistant coach who had been giving a young Howard free coaching had become the coach of the North Jersey Imperials of the USISL, as well as goalkeeper coach for Major League Soccer club MetroStars. He would sign Howard to the Imperials, and young Tim Howard would play his first professional match before graduating from high school. He would go on to appear for the Imperials six times before moving up to the MetroStars the following year.
In his first stint in the MLS, Howard would make 88 appearances for the MetroStars between 1998 and 2003. Only one would happen in that first year of 1998 during a match against the Colorado Rapids, a team he would eventually play for much later in his career. In 2001, Howard was named the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. He also received the MLS Humanitarian of the Year Award.
The latter of those two awards was for his continuing work to create awareness about Tourette syndrome. When Howard was 11, he was diagnosed with both Tourette syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Throughout his career, he has never shied away from his diagnoses and has continued to use his platforms to bring awareness to the disorders.
A Move Overseas
In the middle of the 2003 MLS season, English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United paid $4 million to bring the American goalkeeper from New York to Old Trafford, becoming the legendary club's first-choice goalkeeper. He would immediately make an impact, saving the game-winning penalty in the FA Community Shield against Arsenal. That first season would see Howard continue to perform well in the Premier League and the FA Cup. But late in the season, a howler off the hands of the keeper would cause United to lose to Porto in a UEFA Champions League match and lead to their exit from the tournament. This would rattle Howard, and he would struggle for the remainder of the season. He would, however, start the FA Cup Final for United and become only the second American to win an FA Cup Winner's Medal. He was also named to the PFA Best XI that year, in his first season in England's top-flight league.
The following season did not go as smoothly for Howard, and he would be in and out of the starting XI for Manchester United. Eventually, ahead of the 2006-07 Premier League season, Tim Howard would be loaned to another Premier League club, Everton. By February of that season, Everton would pay to complete a permanent move to Liverpool for the keeper. He would become one of the biggest players in the English Premier League and back home in the USA. Timmy would eventually wear the captain's armband for Everton, set the club record for clean sheets, and in a 2012 match against Bolton Wanderers, would become the fourth keeper to score a goal in a Premier League match, launching a ball that would get caught in the wind and bounce past Bolton's keeper.
By 2016, Howard's best days were starting to show in the rear-view window, and Everton manager Roberto Martinez would eventually move Howard to a backup role. A few months later, Tim would return to Major League Soccer, securing a transfer to the Colorado Rapids. Upon leaving the Premier League, Howard assured he would "...remain an Evertonain for life. This will always be my team, my club." Tim would make 100 appearances for Colorado between 2016 and 2019, when he would retire from professional soccer. That is until singing a contract and playing in 6 matches for USL side Memphis 901, a club he would also be sporting director and minority owner.
The American Minister of Defense
As impressive as his club career was, the real reason Timmy is a better choice for the "Greatest U.S. Soccer Player Ever" is thanks to his time with the Men's National Team. Early in his career, he was a backup for Brad Friedel in the 2000 Summer Olympics and then a backup to Kasey Keller in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. By the time the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup rolled around, Howard was the main-man between the sticks, helping secure a 2-1 win in the final against Mexico. He was the keeper in the net when the USMNT shocked the world, shutting-out the No. 1 ranked team in the world, Spain, in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final. Even though the U.S. would finish second, Howard would win the Golden Glove of that tournament, mostly for his eight-save clean sheet in that match against Spain.
The following year would see one of Howard's defining highlights, and one of the defining highlights for U.S. Soccer as a whole. At the 2010 World Cup, Howard's brilliant distribution to Landon Donovan would set-up their game-winning stoppage-time goal against Algeria that would see them thru to the knockout rounds.
But really, it was the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that is Tim Howard's true career-defining legacy. In qualifying for that tournament, Howard would earn his 100th cap for the USMNT. And in the group stage, a pair of back-to-back saves earned him "man of the match" against Portugal, helping to secure the draw and the point that would help the U.S. advance to the knockouts. It was there in the Round of 16, where Team USA would come up against the young "Golden Generation" of Belgium. And while Belgium would end up winning the match 2-1, Tim Howard would make a World Cup record 16 saves in that one match, earning him the nickname "The Secretary of Defense," which was posted on his Wikipedia page immediately following the match. And the hashtag #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave began trending worldwide. If not for Germany's 7-1 slaughter of host nation Brazil, Howard's performance would have easily been the most memorable moment from that tournament and not just for people in the USA. While his USMNT career would technically continue until 2017, that was Howard's last big match in goal for the USA.
Tim Howard's Life After Soccer
As well as being sporting director, and minority owner of Memphis 901, these days, Tim Howard is still an international ambassador for Everton. He is also a part of the studio team for NBC Sport's Premier League coverage, which allows him continue raising awareness for Tourette syndrome and act as a role model for those with the disorder. In 2014, after his performance against Belgium he was described as "the most notable individual with Tourette syndrome around the world." With his work both on and off the soccer pitch it's no understatement to call Howard a true American hero. If that's not worthy of being the GOAT of U.S. Soccer, I'm not sure what is.
Enjoy all things sports?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.