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Tim Howard impresses in return from injury

After four months on the sidelines, Tim Howard made his long awaited comeback, playing in his first match of the year in the Colorado Rapids’ 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

Howard made seven saves and looked sharp, raising the likelihood that he will be able to return to the U.S. Men’s national team ahead of upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama.

“I felt good,” Howard said. “I’ve been training for a while. I made sure to tick all the boxes in training to get to this point, so there was no hesitation on my part.”

His coach, Pablo Mastroeni, did not wait when his goalkeeper deemed himself fit.

“It was mostly about how he felt, and making sure he was completely recovered from the injury,” Mastroeni said about the right adductor fracture he sustained playing for the U.S. Men’s national team last November. “He felt great this week, and I think he’s ready to rock.”

The goalkeeper did not come back to ideal conditions, despite being back in his home state. The frigid temperatures provided a tricky test for a player coming back from surgery, but he had faith in being ready to return.

“Yesterday, when it snowed, it wasn’t ideal, and I knew how cold it would be today,” Howard said. “I would have preferred a game in Orlando or Houston, but I felt healthy so I just figured I’d go with it and get myself as warm as possible.”

Overall, it was a strong first game back, with praise coming from both locker rooms after the match.

“He kept us in the game and made some plays,” said Mastroeni, who added that the decision was ultimately up to Howard to determine if he was ready to return.

“It was mostly about how he felt, and making sure he was completely recovered from the injury, and not having to think about whether or not he can kick the ball because he wasn’t there yet,” Mastroeni said. “He felt great this week, and I think he’s ready to rock.”

Howard needed just two minutes to show he was ready, making a kick save for one of three top-quality saves he made on Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.

“From nowhere, his arm just comes out and it’s a great save.” Wright-Phillips said. “I think, on another day, any other ‘keeper, I think I’d score at least two. I think he was quality today. … That’s what you pay for when you get someone like Tim Howard.”

Howard will have a chance to play one more match with the Rapids — next week at home against Minnesota United— before USMNT convenes in San Jose, California. If he puts together another good showing against the Loons, Howard will be a safe bet to make the USMNT roster for the qualifiers against Honduras and Panama, and he will also be a good bet to start.

Howard isn’t looking that far ahead, choosing instead to focus on the present.

“I want to be healthy, and I want to be playing well. I’ll wait and see,” Howard said. “I still wait for the emails. Obviously that’s a question for Bruce (Arena). Hopefully I’ll do enough to get an opportunity if I’m healthy.”

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