62114_howardtim_isi_usmntpm061614212 Perry McIntyre/isiphotos.com
He's No. 1

The Underappreciated Genius of Tim Howard

The United States national team goalkeeper is one of the best in the world, yet somehow he manages to fly under the radar. Have we just gotten too used to seeing greatness in the American net?
BY Noah Davis Posted
June 21, 2014
9:18 AM
RECIFE, Brazil—Every two months, a panel of United States soccer experts and yours truly ranks who we think are the 100 best American soccer players. Since we started, either Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley have held the top spot every time.

You know who should be there? Tim Howard.

"[He's] one of the best five goalkeepers in the world," Jurgen Klinsmann said in 2012, a statement that was more or less true then and is more or less true now.

Would you say the same thing about Bradley or Dempsey? Of course not. This isn't a slight against either of them, both fantastic in their own way, but more to point out what the U.S. has in its stalwart netminder. Howard, a fixture in the American net since 2007, is the best player in relation to the rest of the world hands down. Or, perhaps, hands up, making yet another sprawling, diving save.

When you have a safety blanket for so long, it becomes part of you. You forget it's there, an ever-present comfort that becomes part of your daily life. Howard is that blanket. (Bradley is too, which is why his poor performance against Ghana was such a surprise, but that's another story entirely.) Howard tripped up a bit during the middle part of the U.S. qualifying campaign, letting in a couple soft goals and looking vulnerable, but has been brilliant over the past nine months. He posted another stellar season at Everton, helping the underfunded, outgunned team compete for a Europa League spot, and his rejuvenated game translated to his performances while wearing the Stars and Stripes.

This World Cup might be his best show, not so much in between the pipes but as an on-field leader. The inexperience of a backline that hadn't played together forced him to become more vocal and lead from the back. While he has always been a leader on the squad, seeming to genuinely enjoy the back and forth with the press, Howard is vital in keeping the organization of the defense and the midfield. You can see him excoriate defenders for mistakes, encourage them after good plays, and generally keep the talk up and the heads in the match at hand. Then, of course, he's always there to make a save.

On Sunday, Howard will almost certainly earn his 102nd cap, moving him into a tie with Kasey Keller for 11th place all-time on the U.S. list. He'll get at least one more, 103, when the Americans line up against Germany on Thursday. The U.S. might reach the knockout stage and it might not, but Howard won't flinch in net.

And when it's time for the August 2014 ASN 100, I know who my new No. 1 will be.

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