Tim Howard Is Pretty Much Bulletproof

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My brother and I often disagree on quite a bit….and, when we were younger, the two of us had some interesting and let’s say, very physical (and sometimes bloody), ways of addressing these arguments.

Case in point, our summers were spent playing one-on-one basketball after dinner on a hoop tacked to a tree in our driveway. The game would be to 50 by ones and twos and I surmise we finished maybe 3 of these games in the history of the contest. The epic battles typically got rougher and rougher the closer someone got to the 40-point range plunging the game into an eat-my elbow, shoulder charge, take-it-to-the hole at all costs foul and hack affair.

So while my brother I disagreed, vehemently, on how this column should be written, we’ve finally put our differences aside in favor of the greater good and publishing this feature. (Aside: I favored calling out some writers and my brother favoring staying with the main theme.) We agree on one thing.

Some realize the legend in the making

Some realize the legend in the making

Tim Howard is a world class goaltender and any goal scored against his team with him in net should not be evaluated in isolation.

So, in writing this column, I am staying on point and I will not egregiously torch writers, message board contributors, and tv commentators or their “commentary” that suggests Tim Howard has something to prove against El Salvador. (You know we’ve all read their commentary and I’ve bookmarked their links.)

Okay! Done, caput. Focused, on-point.

Tim Howard has absolutely zero to prove. He should laugh at that at that notion. And frankly he might be chuckling from the bench on Saturday as it is actually a good game for him to take a well-needed break and have Brad Guzan (who faced the squad in March) deputize.

But let’s dispel three specific criticisms that have been volleyed at the US’s #1 in recent weeks:

Timmy should have saved one, if not both goals against Mexico August 12th.

That’s preposterous.

Howard, beat, but not by much

Howard, beaten, but not by much

Good keepers get beat by good shots all the time.

It’s the nature of the sport. And that’s exactly what happened to Howard when Israel Castro released what Peter Vermes aptly called a “boombosa” of a shot to dirty the clean sheet. No shame there.

For the 2nd goal, Howard is getting maligned for not coming out and attempting to snuff the play on the ground.

First, that was pretty much a bang-bang play.

Secondly, and more importantly, you start charging the shot taker and you better get to the ground real quick while moving forward (ever try to do that?) because the offender can just punch a grounder into the goal.

Lifting that ball from the angle that Miguel Sabah did was the harder shot–and another good shot. Howard was nary a split second late with his left hand, but he played it right.

Tim Howard leaves his line too early.

There is critical buzz of Howard getting beat, both in the Mexican affair and South African tourney, because he came off his line too early. Specifically, this criticism was levied for both Italian goals in the group stage and the first goal in Mexico.

"Really? I think I save more when I come out"

"Really? I think I save more when I come out"

Howard is not the most lankiest of keepers and this is most probably why he departs his line to cut the angle on balls and plays he would normally not get to. I would wager that this strategy probably regularly saves more goals than lets them in.

Given the somewhat leaky defenses of both Everton early last year and to-date this year as well as the USMNT in the Confederation’s Cup, coupled with the U.S.’s challenges with corners and through balls, Howard is probably now even predisposed to coming off his line more, and comfortable doing it, because he was forced to.

Ironically, this past Sunday against Wigan (as well as the 2nd goal above), Howard stayed on his line trusting his defenders to make a play. Didn’t happen. In fact, if you can see the Wigan goal against Howard, it was just atrocious. An unmarked Wigan defensemen skirting in behind Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert with neither of them even close. Has to be very frustrating for Big T.

You can’t look at goals in isolation.

On a bigger note, to use an American football analogy, have you ever seen a quarterback get what announcers call “happy feet” in the pocket. This is when their offensive line is challenged by a stellar pass rush. Not wanting to get hit the quarterback shuffles around in the pocket, not setting his feet which typically creates errant passes and turnovers–this behavior is deemed “happy feet”.

Well, that’s the same feeling that a keeper gets when he is getting constantly pummeled with shots. If there is any keeper that should have happy feet for his national team it is unanimously Timmy H.

Howard has not even had the slightest notion of happy feet.

Reversing through the Azteca game (8 shots, 6 on goal) and the onslaughts against both Spain(11, 6) and Brazil (24, 11), Howard was under seige the full 90. That’s not a typo on the Brazil stats. That’s 24 shots, 11 of them on goal. Would you blame Howard if he did get unnerved ? I wouldn’t.

Howard is having a rough start to his Premiership and Europe campaigns for Everton.

We beg to differ–and this one really frustrates me as an Everton fan and someone who reads USMNT commentary on major sites that start with the letter….anyway….

For those not hooked up to the Internet machine or picture tube, Everton’s defense has been horrific out of the gates and sadly that’s a compliment. First, the anchorman, Joleon Lescott, decides he’d rather be up the road at Manchester City and mailed in his one performance against Arsenal in the opener. Result: 6-1 drubbing.

Next Burnley, they of the Manchester win in the campaign already, came in and managed only a single tally on Howard despite a series of open looks immediately in front of the goal, including one that even DaMarcus Beasley would have finished (yikes, low blow, my bad). That game saw the Toffees start midfielder Phil Neville in central defense and the back four thoroughly disorganized throughout–Tony Hibbert is really having a challenging time at RB right now.

Finally Howard got his clean sheet in a Europa league game on Thursday, but it wasn’t easy. Howard watched 20 shots come his way, 9 of them on goal. He followed that up with Everton’s first EPL win against Wigan on Sunday.

If you need evidence that Tim Howard has been a lone bright spot for Everton this season, consider this: Big T has been between the sticks for all of Everton’s games this season, including the Europa League game where many played their reserve keeper. This is David Moyes basically asking Tim to keep the team in games, and in the EPL season, with the mishmash of a defense in front of him.

And Moyes knows it for certain.

Moyes picked up Sylvain Distin from Portsmouth to fill Lescott’s role against Wigan and the rest of the tenure (accurately Distin, at 31, is not the equal of Lescott) and despite Everton’s offensive challenges, Moyes is on the prowl for yet another defender, being linked with Atletico Madrid’s Dutch national John Heitinga. Sound like a manager who has any confidence in his current defense? [Update: Heitinga joined the squad just before the transfer deadline today.]

And finally, let’s take a look at Everton last year. Howard and Everton conceded less than a goal a game (37) which placed TH’s squad in the top 4 for goals conceded for the campaign. Remember, no Vidic, Essien, Garragher, Patrice Evra, etc. etc. Howard and the Toffees then set a club record, and top four finish, for clean sheets (17) despite not getting getting the first shutout until the final weekend of October.

That clean sheet tally does not include his FA Cup shutout of Premiership champs Man United in April.

And all this rounds us back to the positive.

David Moyes call him the best in the world, so should you.

David Moyes call him the best in the world, so should you.

Tim Howard has the respect of both his club managers and teammates and the USMNT staff and teammates. Everton boss David Moyes has gone so far to suggest he’s the best in the world and insists that Howard be mentioned up there with the absolute best citing rival Liverpool and the Chelsea Blues keepers.

“Tim is now on the same level as Pepe Reina and Petr Cech,” Moyes said. “They are considered to be the two best in England. I would not swap either for my man.”

So, some out there think that Tim Howard can be faulted for some goals, or that he leaves his line to early, TSG says, let’s stop looking in isolation and look at Tim Howard’s overall body of work. There is no debate there.

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mark T on 2009/09/01 at 8:32 AM

    Tim Howard is not only maintaining, but elevating the tradition of quality American goalkeeping. (Hell, right now Friedel is also doing that with his hot start for Villa.) Every goal a keeper gives up will be looked at critically with the full benefit of hindsight. However, it is the reaction at the moment that matters and Howard’s instincts and skill lead to far more terrific saves than suspect goals.

    Perhaps due to the tradition of quality keepers, American fans expectation have been elevated to near unreachable heights for all who don the gloves, shave their heads and use their hands for the USMNT.


  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Tim Howard is one of the top 5 GK in the world, or certainly on his way to the top 5. For me, he is the best American soccer player right now, period. As an Everton fan (because of Timmy), you absolutely cannot fault him for their shoddy defense. Nor can he be blamed for the USMNT’s unsettled back 4.

    This may all sound like bias towards Timmy, perhaps it is. But seriously, look at this man’s play over the last couple of years. He deserves more than the benefit of the doubt


  3. Howard is by far the brightest spot on our National Team roster. It was part “all hands on deck” defending and Timmy that preserved the Spain win and Tim alone keeping us in the Brazil game. Howas has time and time again pulled off beyond quality saves for both the Nats and Everton.

    Everton pulled off a great performance in last year’s EPL, but Lescot got a lot of the credit (through a ridiculous transfer to Man City) . Goalkeeping is a lot like being the president.. you get none of the credit when things go good, but all of the blam when things go bad. Howard was Everton last season and he’ll be the guy keeping it respectable for them this season.

    I wouldn’t trade Howard for any other national team keeper. He’s the heart and soul of our defense and the top thing that will bring us CONCACAF qualification and success in the World Cup.

    All you haters… find a new national team. I’ll criticize our players when they need it, but this one is a lost cause.


  4. Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/09/01 at 11:22 AM

    So I guess this might be a future blog post by either me or the two brothers but i want to pose a question. Out of all the positions in soccer, the US are constantly producing above average to world class goalkeepers. Yes they have an occasional great midfielder, defender etc.., but the output of great keepers (Howard, Friedel, Keller, Guzan etc…) is very impressive. Any thoughts to why this is?


    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/09/01 at 12:39 PM

      Shaun, as I wrote my comment above, I thought of that exact question and that it would be a great blog post. However, my initial thought was that I have no idea. Is it coaching? Is the mystique of the US keeper that draws folks to it? Is it the shaved head?


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/09/01 at 2:29 PM

        Shaun / Mark:

        I think these is an easy answer here. I thought making this a column. But if you look at any of the US keepers, they all excelled in another sport as youths or teens.

        I believe both Tim Howard and Brad Friedel with all-state basketball players in high school.

        American sports that kids grow up with have one thing in common–lunging for balls. Basketball be it a steal or a pass, Baseball, self explanatory, Football, try being a WR or DB.

        It’s ingrained in our culture, unlike Brazil for example, where they play soccer on patches of dirt or grass or, with more difficulty, on the beach. Hence, the Brazilian dribbling skills.


        • Posted by Mark T on 2009/09/01 at 2:41 PM

          So basically their eye-hand coordination gets developed at an early age? I guess I can buy that, but I would think that you’d see great keepers from other countries that play a fair amount of basketball (and to a lesser extent baseball).

          From a physical standpoint it makes sense as basketball tweeners or athletic, but not fast individuals would gravitate towards the position in America…and we have a lot of both of those.


  5. Posted by kaya on 2009/09/01 at 2:26 PM

    Re: the tradition of american GKs
    I think lots of people have discussed this over the years. I remember watching a Kasey Keller interview where he said it himself: Americans are used to playing games with their hands, so it’s kind of natural to our sports character.
    Every other position on the soccer field ideally involves a childhood spent with a ball at the feet and watching games with great players on tv… the latter is only becoming a possibility now, and I don’t know if we can ever expect the former. For now, we’ll have to settle for great goalkeeping and recent imports to get a decent field of over-achievers.


  6. […] Tim Howard This TSG favorite has been a rock in net for most of the year including 8 saves against Spain in an historic win for US Soccer. The USMNT’s pack-it-in and counter-attack approach has only enjoyed some success due to Howard’s ability to come up big when the defense breaks down. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s still world class. […]


  7. […] Oh and more note here, not to tread on Timmy. Howard was beaten on an exquisite flick on the West Ham goal. The goal was credited to an own goal by Goodison’s Tony Hibbert, but Howard was beat. Note, Howard came out for this one (correctly) and got beat left side as he tried to shut down the dominant foot of Junior Stanislas who was making a run on to a ball over the top by none other than Diamanti. Not a bad beat and otherwise Howard was his usual self, bulletproof. […]


  8. Posted by Bob on 2010/01/30 at 12:39 AM

    Another good article. I was thinking about Howard this past week when the news of Donovan’s goal broke. I was watching ESPN and saw the Soccer ticker report the score of the game and the fact that LD had his first goal. I thought it would have only been appropriate for them also to mention Howard’s clean sheet (I think his 5th this year?). I guess it is the glass half full/half empty syndrome. Soccer has finally made ESPN’s ticker so I very happy about that, but it would be nice if they focused on all our EPL players when reporting EPL scores, esp. Howard and Friedel.


  9. […] • First, from Don’t Tread Challenger Luis, an ode to bulletproof Timmy Howard: […]


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