By Mike Woitalla
Tim Howard played the last of his 37 English Premier League games on May 11 and had just a few days off before joining the U.S. team at its World Cup preparation camp.
“I’ve been doing this for 11 years every summer, coming off a long season,” he says. “Nothing’s changed. I just try and manage my body and stay fit. Hitting the weights, eating right.”
Howard has now played in 341 EPL games, plus cup games, since leaving the MetroStars in 2003. He has 97 U.S. caps, 12 of them coming in 2013.
“I’ve never paced myself,” says Howard, who turned 35 in March. “When I get offered to take a game off, I don’t because it’s not in my makeup. I’ll take days off when I retire. I always want to play every game. I think it’s important, because I don’t think you can turn it off and on.”
His European career started with Manchester United, where he was a teammate of Cristiano Ronaldo, the superstar he will face when the USA meets Portugal in its second World Cup game.
"With a guy like him, you always have to be aware,” Howard says. “Every player he plays with is always trying to get him the ball. You have to always know where he is and try to bottle him up.”
Howard, in a previous interview, recalled how impressed he was with Ronaldo when they graced Old Trafford together:
“You see the stepovers, you see the underwear advertisements, the Lamborghinis, and the super-model girlfriends. You see all that. What you don't see is how hard he works.
“When I was at Manchester United, he'd take a ball after training and jog around the perimeter with the ball -- step-overs, juggling, keep-ups -- and nobody was watching him. No fans, no cameras. He works so hard. If you want to be the greatest, it doesn't come easily.”
Howard, a backup keeper to Kasey Keller at the 2006 World Cup, started all four U.S. games when it reached the round of 16 of South Africa 2010.
“The 2010 team was a good team with a ton of experience,” Howard says. “This team is younger but I think we’re slightly better than in 2010 because of that youth. That inexperience almost helps you. These guys don’t know what to expect and they just want to go for it. It’s good to have that hunger.”
Howard isn’t too concerned about playing behind a backline of World Cup newcomers. Of the defenders in camp, only DaMarcus Beasley, a winger for most of his career, has World Cup game experience.
“We’ve had a good qualifying campaign,” Howard said. “Defensively, I think we were pretty solid. … If I’m giving them too much information, they’ll tell me. If it’s not enough, they’ll tell me that, too.”
Jurgen Klinsmann is Howard’s third World Cup coach, after Bob Bradley (2010) and Bruce Arena (2006). Klinsmann played in three World Cups, lifting the title with West Germany in 1990.
“Unfortunately he’s not going to kick a ball for us,” Howard says. “But his experience in big moments – he’s not fazed by them -- will help us. We’ll kind of read off his demeanor in those big moments, two minutes before we leave the locker room and the music starts to play. Those are the moments that define a team.”