Tim Howard goes down in history as epic saver despite World Cup loss to Belguim

Posted: 07/01/2014 in soccer
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The first day of July was that rare afternoon where an American soccer player was the talk of the day.

United States goalkeeper Tim Howard had a game for the ages with 16 saves – the most ever by a U.S. goalie – and the 35-year-old tried to single-handedly boost the Americans past Belguim in the Round of 16 at the World Cup.

Howard used his ultra-strong legs, his machine-like hands and every other part of his body but a goal in the 93rd minute by Belguim’s Kevin De Bruyne was the icebreaker and Romelu Lukaku added another one 12 minutes later as the U.S. fell 2-1 in extra time.

Julian Green – all of 19 years old – got the USA on the board in the 107th minute and Clint Dempsey broke in close in the 114th minute but was stymied by Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois as the Americans had their World Cup run halted.

Belguim advances to face Argentina in the quarterfinals and it remains to be seen whether I watch another soccer match prior to the 2018 World Cup.

But what we saw on Tuesday was a classic sporting event. Nobody anywhere should find fault with the effort of Howard. His performance was epic and certainly one of the best ever in the history of USA soccer.

In case it hasn’t quite sunk in … you may have just witnessed the most remarkable effort from an American soccer player.

Belguim seemingly possessed the ball in front of the goal all game long and the U.S. defense was suspect way too often. It was almost like a game of college athletes against kindergartens, that’s how one-sided it was for most of the match.

In fact, I hope Howard’s postgame routine involved kicking every defender in the shins with his cleats. And then maybe using a hammer for two more swipes.

If Howard hadn’t been so stellar, Belguim wins 6-1. Heck, maybe 8-1.

When De Bruyne scored early in the extra 30-minute session, you could feel the air coming out of the sails.

The goal by Lukaku made it seem like a 30-point basketball margin in the fourth quarter but Green’s goal renewed hope and led to a suspenseful final push and Dempsey came so-oh-close to tying it off an indirect kick when he slipped through the Belguim wall but Courtois made the close-range save.

The Belgians ended up with 39 shots as Howard was peppered with shot after shot.

He made a huge save in the opening minute that set the tone for the performance. Big saves in the 57th, 71st, 76th, 85th and 90th minutes kept it scoreless and the USA had a chance to steal the win but Chris Wondolowski couldn’t finish from in close just before regulation time ended.

Asked by ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in a postgame interview about being constantly under siege, Howard said simply: “It’s my job. That’s what I signed up to do.”

Somehow that comment wasn’t surprising. Howard was humble in defeat and didn’t point fingers. So much different than so many of the me-first athletes of this generation.

The Americans may have lost but Tim Howard is a winner.

Not just for one day either. He will be viewed that way forever.

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