It's good timing for a Tim Howard autobiography, coming in the wake of the American goalkeeper becoming a household name at last summer’s World Cup. But Howard's story had been a good one long before he became a meme superstar (#ThingsTimHowardCouldSave) after the Belgium performance.
As a boy, he was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. His mother couldn’t afford elite soccer training, but Howard was discovered at age 12 by New Jersey goalkeeper coach Tim Mulqueen, who told her, “You bring him back. No charge. Ever.”
Howard debuted in MLS at age 19 and became a Manchester United starter at age 24 before settling at Everton and had played nearly 350 English Premier League games before his summer of glory in Brazil.
"The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them" by Tim Howard with Ali Benjamin makes for engaging reading not just for detailing Howard’s unique journey as an American soccer player -- but also for the cast of characters who’ve been a part of it.
Howard is the latest of the great American goalkeepers, following Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tony Meola, whom Howard served as understudy at the MetroStars:
“Tony became like a big brother -- always tough, always direct, but also always looking out for me.”
Howard recalls another MetroStars teammate, Tab Ramos, who after a loss in Kansas City when half the team was drunk and singing on the bus to the airport, “whipped around and snapped, ‘Would you shut up?! We lost six-nothing.'"
Carlos Bocanegra, who would become U.S. captain, became a friend of Howard’s during youth national team play: “A Tom Cruise look-alike with hoop earrings and big baggy jeans. He was so mellow, I sometimes wanted to check and see if he had a pulse.”
When Howard first joined the national team, he served as backup to Keller:
“Kasey Keller turned out to be full of contradictions. He was affable as well as competitive, a family man who watched Barney with his kids yet blasted heavy metal whenever he got a chance.”
At Manchester United, Howard promptly took the starting spot from Fabien Barthez, the French World Cup-winning goalkeeper:
“Privately, Fabian was always friendly. Publicly he made statements like I blame only myself if I lose my spot.”
When Howard was beaten on a free kick by Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, Alex Ferguson scolded him for not adding an extra man to the wall: “If you cannae handle the f****** stage I’ll send you right back to the MLS.”
Howard recruited Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy to take shots on him after practice sessions:
“No matter how long we stayed out there, we were never the last to leave the field. That’s because no one could outwork Cristiano Ronaldo. … That guy’s going to be the best in the world one day, I thought.
Of Landon Donovan upon teaming up with him at one of Howard’s early U.S. call-ups, Howard writes: “By this point he was the all-time leading goal scorer and leader in career assists. Yet he didn’t care about glory or kudos; Landon simply loved playing the game.”
Howard thought of trying to talk Donovan out of taking the sabbatical that would irk Jurgen Klinsmann so much but figured: “Landon is a ferocious competitor. If he was making this choice, it’s not because he hadn’t thought it through.”
On how Klinsmann changed the national team after replacing Bob Bradley, Howard writes:
“Jurgen had us training twice a day. Sometimes three times. … He managed every action of the players -- some even said he micromanaged them. Jurgen dictated when we woke and when we slept. …”
Howard writes that Klinsmann was also “determined to change our breathing.”
“Some of our training sessions became two hours of yoga exercises. If there is a less likely sight on this earth than Clint Dempsey, the Texas trailer-park kid, doing downward-facing dog poses, or the stalwart Michael Bradley deep breathing through a tree pose, I have yet to see it.”
And that’s just a small glimpse into “The Keeper.”
"The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them" by Tim Howard with Ali Benjamin. Hardcover, 320 pages. HarperCollins 2014.