By Timothy Nyangacha
It was at the 2014 World Cup. The United States was playing Belgium in the knockout stage. To the surprise of many, the United States advanced out of the group stage, supplanting Ronaldo and Portugal. Germany, finishing first in the group after embarrassing Portugal in its first game 4-0, would go on to win the World Cup. Belgium, considered by many to be in its golden generation of football talent, went undefeated in the group stage and was unquestionably the favorite in its matchup against the Americans. Little did we know that the X factor would be the man representing the United States defending the goal with unmatched determination and reflexes.
Tim Howard was selected as a backup goalkeeper to the United States’ roster for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He was chosen as the starting goalkeeper for the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and his steady play helped him to hold on to the role. At the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Howard conceded a goal in extra time and the United States lost to Ghana in the round of 16 by a score of 2-1. Four years later, Howard had the opportunity to display his talents once again in the round of 16.
No one could have predicted the great extent to which Tim Howard was tested on that match day July 1st, 2014. The first shot came in the first minute. The Belgian Divock Origi, then nineteen years old, received a through ball in the penalty area. He fired a low shot towards the lower left corner, but Howard calmly deflected it with his right leg. This began a match in which Howard would end with a total of 16 saves, the most ever in World Cup history. In the first half, the Belgians had several good chances, but Howard’s dexterity resulted in a 0-0 score line at the half.
The intensity picked up dramatically in the second half, with Belgian players firing shot after shot. Whether it was due to poor play by the United States’ defenders or the Belgian forwards simply overpowering and outpacing their opposition, there were several instances in which a Belgian player was in an advantageous position to score with only Howard to beat. In every chance taken in the second half, Howard reacted in time and singlehandedly made up for his defenders’ periodic lapses. His heroics gave the United States a fighting chance to secure an improbable victory. After 90 minutes of play, the score line was 0-0.
The United States would go on to lose 2-1 in extra time. After De Bruyne scored the first goal in extra time, Howard lay emphatically on the ground, staring up at the sky. In the end, no one could blame him for the loss. His spectacular saves, orchestration and exhortation directed at the defenders, and sure-handedness garnered international acclaim and his saves went viral. It was the best performance by a goalkeeper that I’ve ever seen and will likely ever see.
“Tim Howard.” U.S. National Soccer Players., accessed 2/19, 2016, http://ussoccerplayers.com/player/howard-tim.