Catching up with GK Tim Howard (cont.)
SI.com: You've played against a lot of great forwards over the years at the club and international levels. If you had to rate the top three most dangerous ones, who would they be, and why?
Howard: I had the fortune of playing with a few of them at Man. United, but I won't count those because I trained with them. Certainly over the last few years, it's been Fernando Torres. I think he's been one of the top in the world. He's got speed, and he's got a great sense for the goal, which all great strikers have. The craziest thing about Torres is that as silky smooth as he is, he's a scrapper as well. When he gets in the box, it's like you don't think this flashy guy is going to get in there. And he sticks his feet in, he sticks his head in. He knows as he gets closer to the goal the importance of really fighting and battling. He seems to always hit the target, and he hits it with pace, which makes it really difficult for a goalkeeper.
Definitely Didier Drogba. As a soccer player, he's the prototype. He's one of the stronger guys you'll ever come up against. You talk about pace and athletic ability, he's at the top. I don't think anyone is better than him in any of those categories. When he hits the ball, he hits it a ton. He rarely ever side-foots it or rolls it. When he hits it, he smashes it. That's difficult for a goalkeeper because you know it's not going to be easy. You're not going to be able to just fingertip one. You're really going to have to get everything behind it. His goal-scoring record speaks for itself.
And of course Thierry Henry, who I played against not nearly as often as other guys. But early in my career was when I think he was probably at his best for Arsenal and that undefeated team in '04. He was just a guy who, more than any of those guys, commanded so much respect. Very rarely were defenders going to get up against him because you thought, "I don't want to give away a foul. The referee's probably going to give him a foul, and he'll probably skin me if I get too close."
He had pace, but he wasn't nearly as physical or rumble-tumble as those other guys. But he knew where the holes were. He was almost like a phantom. He just popped up. He got in between defenders and pulled out wide. Obviously, he was a center forward, but next thing you know he's pulled out wide and he's got your right back one-on-one because he loved to pull out to the right side. With all of these guys, they have a nose for the goal.
SI.com: For a long time, it seemed like there would be this endless pipeline of U.S. goalkeepers over playing club ball at the highest levels in Europe. Not so much the last of couple years. Why is that? Is there a sense that maybe this was just a special generation of U.S. goalkeepers that you were on the young side of?
Howard: Yeah. I think you're saying what a lot of people have been thinking for a long time. You had Brad and Kasey, so they all got lumped together. Brad and Kasey were two individuals who were very good and made a heck of a living for themselves overseas. But a lot of people decided to lump U.S. goalkeepers into that category: "You've got world-class goalkeepers, and as soon as one comes here comes the next one!" It was "a pipeline."
But that was never really the issue. You had two guys who were outstanding. That was it, really. I was fortunate to go over at the tail end of that, but I wasn't really in that generation. They're 10 years older than me. Brad Guzan has gone over, and I think he'll have a long career in Europe. He'll be one of the good ones. But it's very few goalkeepers out of many.
Is it an issue now? I think the issue has always been there. You had one, two, three individuals who have gone over and made a mark. Marcus Hahnemann has done pretty well for himself, too. But I don't think it was necessarily American goalkeepers getting selected by a European coach because this is what they're like. I think it was just a couple individuals. I certainly think goalkeeping has gone down in this country across the board, from the youth level going up. I don't think the trainings are nearly as good when you talk about the goalkeeper training I got coming up as a young kid.
SI.com: You're busy these days with Everton playing in the Premier League and the Europa League. How are things on that side right now?
Howard: I'm feeling good about things. It's a club that I believe in, and that's not just lip service. I believe in everything we're trying to accomplish. That doesn't just come out in stretches of a couple games. I've had the belief over the course of the last two and a half years. We've been habitually slow starters, which sucks. No one likes that. You go into preseason and work your tail off so it doesn't happen, but it happened. Last year was probably one of the best club years of my career for Everton, and it was almost a carbon-copy start of this year. It's not fun, but I think we're going in the right direction.
The crazy thing going into our season is our best three players are injured until October or November. [He was referring to Mikael Arteta, Phil Jagielka and Aiyegbeni Yakubu, but captain Phil Neville injured knee ligaments on Sunday against Fulham and could miss several months.] Any team in the league is going to suffer because of that. Not that we're saying things are all of the sudden going to be magically better when they get back. But those are big players for us. A club like ours doesn't have an abundance of money, so it's important that we have those players come back. I'm a firm believer that once the performances start coming, then the results will -- not the other way around.