US counting on Tim Howard

2014-06-25 10:04
Tim Howard (Supplied)
Tim Howard (Supplied)

RECIFE, Brazil — Tim Howard rarely makes it through a game without accepting multiple celebratory embraces from relieved American teammates.

It happens almost every time the U.S. goalkeeper launches his solid, 6-foot-3 frame to make spectacular saves — diving, leaping and even punching the ball away for difficult stops.

There were a number of such moments Sunday night in a 2-2 tie against Portugal, and the Americans are counting on more of the same when they face three-time champion Germany on Thursday with a berth in the World Cup's knockout round at stake.

The 35-year-old Howard will reach an impressive milestone in the process: The Group G finale will be his 103rd international appearance, passing Kasey Keller for the most by an American goalkeeper.

Not that it's even on Howard's mind with the U.S. trying to reach the knockout stage of consecutive World Cups for the first time. The Americans were in position to advance Sunday before they surrendered a goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time in buggy, muggy Manaus. When Varela's header sailed into the net off a beautiful cross from two-time world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, Howard instantly put his hands on his head and sighed.

If only the game had ended about 30 seconds earlier.

"Football's cruel sometimes. It ebbs and flows," said Howard, who has seven saves through two games. "We try and take every result as it comes. Our training sessions have been light and lively. We've got a great chance in the Group of Death, they say, to go through and advance, so we're excited. I think we had one foot in the door, so there's a small bit of disappointment."

One of the best goalkeepers in the world and a star with Everton in England's Premier League, Howard had 15 shutouts — one behind co-leaders Petr Cech of Chelsea and Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal — in 37 league matches this season before joining the Americans last month for training camp in Northern California.

A back four of defenders that was scrutinized ahead of this World Cup for its lack of experience is quick to hug the big man. Howard's hollering is something each player considers one of the most important factors in keeping everybody organized.

"He had three or four huge saves. That's what we expect from him," central defender Matt Besler said. "One of Tim Howard's biggest qualities is his communication. He gets the best out of everybody. Everything starts with him. The organization. The confidence. He's talking to us almost too much it feels like, but it's great. I tell him I never want him to stop talking. Even if I know what to do, he's still telling me what to do. Everything kind of starts with him."

Portugal certainly peppered him with shot after shot from every angle.

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