Tim Howard silences doubters with game-saving performance vs. LA
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- From the moment Tim Howard signed with the Colorado Rapids, there have been doubts.
On the surface it seems crazy. We're talking about a player who has represented the U.S. at three World Cups and made more than 450 appearances in the Premier League. Yet the questions persisted. Did he still have the ability? Was he really worth the designated-player money the Rapids had thrown his way? Would Colorado have done just as well with the less experienced -- and much cheaper -- Zac MacMath?
On Sunday, those doubts evaporated. The Rapids prevailed over the LA Galaxy 3-1 in a penalty shootout with Howard saving two Galaxy spot kicks. And such was Howard's focus that when he saved LA's final attempt from Jeff Larentowicz, he wasn't 100 percent sure victory had been secured. Then he looked to his left and got all the confirmation he needed.
"I was kind of thinking it was over, but I had to make sure the guys were running towards me," he said.
Indeed they were, and with good reason. Howard's heroics capped off a memorable day for the Rapids. The home side got a wonder goal from Shkelzen Gashi to tie up the Western Conference semifinal 1-1 on aggregate. When the second half and extra time couldn't separate the two sides, the shootout beckoned. For Rapids GM Paul Bravo, the home side had the Galaxy right where it wanted them, and that was down to the man Colorado had in goal.
"I kept thinking to myself, 'There is no better person than Howard to have in goal at this point,'" he said. "It looked like LA were looking to get to penalties. I just kept thinking to myself, 'Why?' When you have a guy like that sitting in goal, there's an intimidation factor that comes with that. I think it showed in their penalties."
Giovani dos Santos skied the Galaxy's second attempt, and Howard then dove low to his right to thwart Ashley Cole. When Howard parried away Larentowicz's effort, Dick's Sporting Goods Park was at full roar.
"I think it was long day, a long build-up," said Howard. "When you go to extra time and penalty kicks, there's a lot of drama because the game can change minute [by] minute. To finally have it be over with, and us on top -- it's like you dream about it. We talk about it, we say a lot of words, but then to go out there and do it, it feels great."
The positive vibe went well beyond the victory. The triumph proved to be a confirmation of sorts that, yes, Howard has been worth every penny of his $2.5 million salary. Not that Rapids manager Pablo Mastroeni needed any convincing.
"For me, [Howard is] still one of the best keepers in the world, and I think week in and week out he proves he's one of the best goalkeepers in the world," Mastroeni said. "He's been fantastic this year in facilitating our attack from the back. It's just a real team presence, a team guy that wants to win more than anything else. That's the kind of people that we want at this club, people willing to give of themselves for the greater good. Again, he brings more than just his performance on the field. What he exudes as a human being has been transformational to the group."
One would think that when Howard arrived back in July that the pressure he felt would be minimal given his résumé. But Howard insisted that the expectations placed on him weighed heavy.
"You have two types of DPs," he explained. "You have guys who come over here to collect checks, and I think you have a bunch of guys who are wholehearted, who want to put the team on their back, who want to feel a part of an organization. That's kind of where I am to be honest. Yeah I've said it before, [the pressure] keeps me awake at night. This is a good team. I'm a piece of that, but with that comes a price tag and there's pressure."
Arriving in midseason isn't easy either, especially when the team is performing as well as the Rapids were. When Howard made his debut on July 4, Colorado had the most points in the league.
"I didn't want to screw it up," he said. "I don't want to be the guy that people are pointing to. This team was going really well, and it wasn't like I was coming into a crappy team. That's easy. I can just puff my chest out, tell people who I am, and that makes it easy. I had to really perform."
That he has, and on this day he wasn't alone. Jermaine Jones put in 82 manic minutes, his longest stint since returning from a knee injury he suffered back in July. Gashi -- another of Colorado's high-priced acquisitions -- provided the critical goal before exiting with an ankle injury. Contrast that with the Galaxy, who got little from superstar midfielder Dos Santos while the team's two other DPs -- Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard -- were limited to substitute roles that saw them make little impact.
"I think tonight across that field, the big players stepped up for us today," Mastroeni said. "It was evident from the first whistle, and the rest of group really did a great job of rising [to the occasion]."
Howard stepped up the most in the end, and even made a pitch for MLS teams to spend more on keepers, though that's likely to go unheeded. That said, Galaxy manager Bruce Arena felt his own keeper, Brian Rowe, should have done better on Gashi's strike. Rowe also let what looked to be a savable shootout attempt from Kevin Doyle go under him.
"It's a stupid thing that this league doesn't invest in goalkeepers," Howard said. "Everywhere else in the world you go, teams are deathly afraid to bring goalkeepers through the ranks because the stakes are that high. So the go pay $7 million, $10 million, $15 million for a goalkeeper. Everywhere in the world there's a premium on goalkeepers except for MLS. I'm excited that [Rapids owners] Kroenke Sports decided it as a good idea. I've fallen in love with this city. It's been fantastic, and hopefully we can keep this dream going."
There are challenges ahead to be sure, but in the case of Howard, no more doubts.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.