Photo by Greg Bartram/ISIPhotos.com
By PABLO MAURER
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The U.S. entered Tuesday evening’s match with Mexico in need of a mind eraser. Just days removed from a 3-1 loss at Costa Rica that was perhaps their worst 90 minutes of the hexagonal, the U.S. would need to wipe the slate clean and put their best foot forward.
Tim Howard – perhaps more than anybody else on the pitch – would need to forget about Friday night’s debacle. Many in the media had criticized the U.S. goalkeeper for being a bit hesitant to leave his line on Costa Rica’s first two goals. At the U.S.’ training session on Monday, some had even wondered aloud if Klinsmann would consider playing Brad Guzan if Howard’s struggles continued.
Howard answered his doubters in style Tuesday evening, saving all 4 shots Mexico put on frame – often in spectacular fashion – en route to a clean sheet. The performance kept the U.S. from falling behind early, and helped him earn SBI Man of the Match honors.
Howard’s strong effort came just four days after a poor performance against Costa Rica that had some questioning whether he should still be the U.S. starter. Howard addressed his outing against Costa Rica, admitting that it wasn’t good, but also stating emphatically that bad games come with the job of being a high-level goalkeeper.
“I’ve played five hundred games,” Howard told SBI. “I’ve had a lot of crappy games. The reason I’m still playing is because they’re very few and far between. Did I have a bad game [against Costa Rica]? Yeah, I had a bad game. I’m gonna have a few more bad games this season, unfortunately. It sucks, because it makes for a long Saturday night, but that’s goalkeeping.”
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was similarly non-plussed by the criticism of his goalie. “We have no doubts about any player,” he told the assembled media after the match. “Players make mistakes. All of us make mistakes. We analyze things, talk to the players about it and want to correct whatever mistakes we made. We talked about it, showed them the video clips. And we wanted to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again.”
For many of his teammates, Howard’s adept, workmanlike performance came as no surprise. They’ve been seeing it for years.
“He’s just solid.” said a smiling, beer-soaked Landon Donovan. “He makes the plays we need him to make. They had a couple of times tonight when they broke through and got some good shots. The crazy thing about him is that those are big saves for most goalies – but for him, we almost expect that out of him, because he does it so often. You just feel so confident, like they’re never going to score.”
“Tim was just so great tonight with us,” added Omar Gonzalez. “He was so vocal in the back, keeping us organized. There’s a lot to say about him but he’s been a great goalkeeper for the past how-ever-many years, and tonight he just showed it.”
In a game where Donovan had a goal and an assist, where Jermaine Jones put in a solid, calm, composed performance in midfield, where Eddie Johnson hammered home the winning goal, Tim Howard gets man of the match honors. Why? Put bluntly, the U.S. simply does not win this game if not for his two massive first-half saves. Howard went full extension to parry away a Christian Gimenez blast mid-way through the first stanza, then went to his left to deny Giovani Dos Santos just moments from the halftime whistle.
A typically humble Howard was quick to heap praise on his teammates and coaches after the half, and quick to point out that this wasn’t the first time that his side entered a match in need of a rebound.
“We’ve answered the bell a bunch of times,” Howard was quick to point out. “Guatemala in Kansas City, the snow game when there was all this internal strife and we ‘hated’ each other, playing like crap in Costa Rica [and bouncing back tonight] – we’ve answered the bell. We have a lot of resiliency, and that’s good to see.”
Howard and company will now get to answer the biggest bell of all, the one that will see them march out of their corner and into the World’s largest stage, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
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