photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Tim Howard has been with the U.S. Men’s National Team for more than a decade, and he has witnessed firsthand just how much it has grown during that span.
Howard recently touched on some of the stark differences between the current crop of U.S. players and those of years past, discussing things like increased competition in the talent pool and magnified media attention. The veteran goalkeeper also made it clear that the United States as a whole has grown as a soccer nation, with last week’s highly-debated World Cup roster announcement serving as just the latest reminder.
“I don’t think we had enough players to make up a 23-man squad. Good players anyway,” said Howard of U.S. World Cup teams in past cycles. “This country has grown leaps and bounds when it comes to (soccer). We’ve got talent and we’ve got competition. Everyone’s competing for spots and our talent at every position is really good. We’ve got guys that play at a multitude of positions and that play around the world. This is easily the deepest team.”
With improved players have come improved results and an increase in fans’ desire for more coverage. That has become extremely apparent in recent years and also with the recent debut of an ESPN documentary series covering the U.S. as it prepares for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
More coverage means more responsibility and more professionalism from the players, but it’s all part of continued growth of soccer in the United States.
“It’s been okay. Obviously, it was a little bit of a concern for us players at first because we didn’t really want that type of access,” said Howard of having cameras around the team on an around-the-clock basis for the documentary series titled Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil. “It’s a lot easier when you can let your hair down, but they’ve been really good. They’ve been great about being up front with us and we’re up front with them with letting them know where our concerns were. It’s not been a problem yet. Hopefully, it turns out well.”
Differences aside, the Americans’ focus as they prepare to head into Brazil remains the same as it did in any of the previous run-ups to the prestigious tournament and that is enjoying a strong showing at the World Cup.
“Now the fun begins,” said Howard ahead of the U.S.’s first send-off series vs. Azerbaijan on Tuesday. “We can play games and we can start to recover and rest and travel and play another game, so we’ll only have two or three sessions.
“We’ve only got three (friendlies) to get it right. Hopefully, we’ll pick up some momentum in the games and put some good performances in. That way, when we get down there we can feel like the work’s been worth it and we’re ready.”