Player profile: Tim Howard
Firmly entrenched as the USA's number-one goalkeeper, Tim Howard is following in the footsteps of such former greats as Tony Meola, Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel. Currently minding the nets for English Premier League outfit Everton, Howard's rise to the top tier of European club football and for the US national team has been nothing short of meteoric.
Born of mixed-race parents, Howard showed an aptitude for football early on, and coupled with his penchant for basketball, the goalkeeper position seemed a perfect fit for the athletic youngster. After a short career in the USA's lower leagues in his native New Jersey, Howard was snapped up by the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) of Major League Soccer in 1998.
Almost at once, he became a crucial member of the New York side, earning fan-favourite status for his incredible athleticism and shot-stopping ability. He earned further plaudits in 2001 when, at 22, he became the youngest ever winner of MLS's goalkeeper of the year award. Not only had the net-minder's exploits caught the attention of the decision-makers at the helm of United States national team, but Sir Alex Ferguson, one of world football's managerial icons, was watching as well. In 2003 Howard was off to Manchester United, were he stepped in for Fabien Barthez in the United goal.
His abilities, honed in MLS, made Howard an instant hit with his new manager, and he looked to have found a long-term home at one of the world's biggest clubs playing in front of 60,000 fans week in and week out. He won an FA Cup with United in 2004, becoming the first American to the do so, but his much-publicised mistake in the UEFA Champions League against Porto that same year seemed to damage his confidence and Ferguson opted to relegate the American to the bench despite being selected to the PFA best eleven in his first season.
At the end of the 2005-2006 campaign it appeared that Howard was in line to take over the number-one spot again, but the arrival of Edwin van der Sar ended those hopes, and the American, ego bruised, moved on to Merseyside and ambitious Premier League outfit Everton. Here, at Goodison Park, Howard truly shined, making the number-one spot his from the outset and earning the respect and faith of manager David Moyes.
Howard's arrival as the USA's first-choice goalkeeper was a long road to hoe, up against such standouts as Keller and Friedel. However, he made his first appearance for the senior team - after standout performances at youth level - in 2002 in a friendly against Ecuador. After backing up Friedel at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Friedel got his chance on the big stage as a member of the USA's side at the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006™. He started every game for the USA on their way to winning the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and is now the undisputed top keeper in the United States' set-up.