By FRANCO PANIZO
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — From the day he first donned the U.S. Men’s National Team jersey, to the 2009 Confederations Cup win over Spain, Tim Howard has had no shortage of special moments in his international career.
He will have another one on Saturday.
Howard is set to receive his 100th cap on Saturday evening when the U.S. finishes its send-off series with a match against fellow World Cup team Nigeria at EverBank Field. The 35-year-old Howard will become the 15th male player in U.S. history to reach that milestone, and the match will undoubtedly be a memorable one for the boisterous and commanding goalkeeper who has long etched his name as an all-time U.S. great.
“That was the first step, it was a baby step,” said Howard of his U.S. debut vs. Ecuador back on March 10, 2002. “We won 1-0, I think Eddie Lewis scored. It was good, I kept a cleansheet, I got my first cap, I was happy. If I hadn’t gotten anymore I was happy with that but it was a great moment in Birmingham, Alabama at Legion Field.”
Since then, all that Howard has done is become the latest in a string of legendary U.S. goalkeepers that includes Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller. He helped lead the Americans to a good showing at the 2010 World Cup, won the 2007 Gold Cup, delivered several outstanding performances against the likes of Leo Messi and Argentina, and been a respected leader on the field and in the locker room for the better part of his tenure.
“For anybody, I think it’s an incredible achievement,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “For Tim, especially, when you look at the number of amazing goalkeepers that we’ve been fortunate enough to have. Whether it was Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tony Meola, Brad Guzan. To show the consistency that he’s shown, to show the competitiveness that he has, through ups and downs always be there, you can’t say enough about it. He’s a guy that we rely on an incredible amount and so I think it’ll be a special night for him (Saturday) night.”
The athletic Howard – whose shot-stopping, instincts and command of his penalty area are all still top-notch – admitted Friday in northern Florida that the game against the Nigerians will be a proud moment for him and his family.
He also revealed that his all-time favorite moment in a U.S. jersey was the shocking 2-0 victory over Spain in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup back in Bloemfontein, South Africa back on June 24, 2009. Howard and the Americans turned in a memorable performance that night, and it is a night that will forever live in U.S. folklore for the veteran.
“We weren’t supposed to win that game.” said Howard. “It was meant to be men amongst boys, and we gave it to them and we shocked the world. Spain had been undefeated 35, 36 games and we won to progress to a major final. That was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had after 90 minutes.”
Saturday will give Howard time to further reflect on the entirety of his accomplished career, but he knows that there is more to look forward to. The World Cup in Brazil is around the corner, and it will present Howard with another opportunity to show fans worldwide just why he is so highly admired and respected.
“We are very, very proud of having Tim tomorrow playing his 100th cap because this is something very, very special,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “But Tim knows that the biggest challenge is just a few days away from him: To play the biggest World Cup in his career and prove it again to be within the best five goalkeepers in the world, which he is undoubtedly.”