U.S. goalkeeper Howard opens up
Tim Howard was voted the Premiership's top goalkeeper in his first season in 2003
U.S. national team will open World Cup with Howard in net against England in June
Howard feels U.S. team's international schedule has helped ready it for World Cup
MANCHESTER, England -- U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard may have joined Everton from Manchester United in 2006, but he still lives in the Manchester area, about 35 miles from Everton's Goodison Park in Liverpool. I took the train out to see Howard on Monday, the day after Everton's 5-1 win over Hull City and five days after the U.S.' 2-1 loss to the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Ever since Howard went straight from MLS' MetroStars to Manchester United in 2003 (and was voted the Premiership's goalkeeper of the year in his debut season), the New Jersey native has been one of the great success stories in U.S. soccer. (That he has done so while having Tourette's syndrome makes his achievements all the more impressive.) I'll let you in on a secret, too: There is no better interviewee on the U.S. national team, which is one reason why Howard is one of my go-to quotes in the mixed zone after any U.S. game.
Howard and I had a far-ranging conversation Monday, with topics including his interactions with Charlie Davies and Jermaine Jones, how Landon Donovan has become an Everton cult hero, what he wants to get from the U.S.-England World Cup match on June 12, whether he's comfortable letting big teams like the Dutch dominate possession against the U.S., why he thinks the U.S. should survive its World Cup group and why he will never use Twitter. Enjoy:
SI.com: Now that I'm covering soccer full time for SI, I want to get over here more often to report on U.S. players in Europe and get a sense of what life is like on the ground here in this soccer-mad culture. What's the best way to explain that culture to people in America?
Howard: For football players in Europe, and in England in particular, it's like you're in a fishbowl. Little kids know who you are. Adults know who you are. Grandmas and grandpas know who you are. Everyone has an affiliation with a team. Even the average person who doesn't really follow it too much has a particular team that's in their family or that they followed as a kid. So there's so much coverage of that. Your face is plastered everywhere 24 hours a day. Newspapers. Television.
When you first come over as a player it's really, really weird. People say odd comments, both negative and positive, and you're getting it buying coffee, buying a newspaper, picking your kids up from school. There's always someone there with eyes on you or something to say. And the games mean so much to these people that they're always pointing a finger, good or bad. It's really hard to get used to at first. Your head feels like it's spinning. But eventually you come around.
SI.com: You've been with Everton for a while now, so you must enjoy being with the club. What makes Everton special?
Howard: The history. Every club has history, but it's been branded as the people's club. Even Landon has come here and been welcomed with open arms. It wasn't, "You have to prove yourself to us." The players and the fans have really embraced him. He's done well. But for me this has become my home. I have a real sense of belonging, and I feel like I'm a small piece of the fabric of this club. It's a working-man's club. And it's really easy to fit in if your effort is always there for everyone to see. You don't have to be amazing every time out -- hopefully you're pretty good -- but if you're showing at Everton that you're a hard worker, that you really care about the club, that you're not taking them to the woodshed for every contract, people are going to appreciate you. And you see that in the players that they support at the club. Guys give everything for the club.
SI.com: Everton has had a good 2010 so far: eight wins overall in the new year, including wins over Chelsea and Manchester United. You're up to eighth place in the Premiership now. How high in the standings do you think you can get?
Howard: If all goes well, I think we can get to sixth or seventh. At the moment there's a four-point gap to seventh. And with the teams above us this year, due to the influx of money that keeps coming into the Premier League, there are going to be more teams competing for these spots. Unfortunately we gave ourselves a mountain to climb. The first half of the season was awful. We underperformed. We had way too many injuries to compete, and we just left ourselves a lot to do. So although 2010 has been really good, we've started to get our form and injured players back. So all that has come together. We brought in a player like Landon, who has only helped. We still have a long way to go in terms of what we left ourselves to do. But I think we can keep climbing.
SI.com: There are some teams above you in the Premiership that have had some problems with their goalkeepers, either starting or reserve, this season. Arsenal and Chelsea come to mind. Do you know if Everton has received any interest from other clubs for your services?
Howard: I don't know. You'd probably have to ask them. But no, I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. This is a place where I want to be for the foreseeable future. If they're willing to have me, I'll stay as long as they want me. It's an amazing club, and it's a place where I feel like I can compete. We can push for Europe every year. We can do good things here. We have a generous chairman who gives the manager [David Moyes] money to spend, and he spends it very wisely. So if you look across the board, I'm getting older now [turning 31 last week], so I don't just look at it as, How does it directly benefit me? I look at the overall perspective of where I fit into the club. It's a really good place to be.
There have been questions across Europe and across different clubs about that. Good goalkeepers are hard to come by. I think you can see that overall. There's always going to be a goalkeeper on the move, and there happens to be a domino effect. But I feel like I'll be staying put for a while, I hope.
SI.com: I know that injuries are part of the game, but Everton has had a lot all season. Currently Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill are out injured, and a lot of European-based U.S. players are injured now. Are there too many games and not enough time for recovery, especially with an important event like the World Cup coming up?
Howard: Probably. It's hard to say. Our bodies are our tool. Look, we get paid a heck of a lot of money, and no one wants to hear that we have too many games. So I can understand that. Your club has you for the whole year, but then your national team wants you too. You can't have a whole summer off, so there's a lot of responsibility on us as players, and I get that. But sometimes you feel like it's everywhere you turn. There isn't a heck of a lot of break, and that's OK for a 12-month period. But as it starts to build up over the course of a World Cup cycle and you look back over the last three-and-a-half years and you think there has not been a break for this player or that player, yeah, I think your body is just going to break down.
We've had awful injuries this year, the worst I've ever known in my club career. Long-term injuries to big players. You talk about the amount of games missed, it would be frightening to look at the numbers. As far as the U.S. goes, it's probably the same thing. Some of our biggest players have taken injuries. With now Stuie [Holden], gosh, he just had this injection of confidence from coming over here and playing really well at Bolton, finally getting himself into the team, making an impact in the latter stages of qualifying, getting a chance to start, and the timing couldn't be worse.
But we're hoping that Charlie [Davies] makes it, hoping that Jermaine Jones makes it. Gooch [Oguchi Onyewu] should make it. So should Clint [Dempsey]. Stu should be OK, barring any setbacks. But it's been really weird. As long as I've been on the team, going back eight years, we haven't had injuries like that. Maybe one guy hurts his knee and comes back around, but not this close to a big tournament.
SI.com: You mentioned Jermaine Jones. I know he was in Amsterdam last week meeting the team for the first time. How did it go?
Howard: It was cool. He fits in really well. He's got a lot of tattoos, he likes his music. He's a perfect fit for us. And, by the way, he's a fantastic player from what I hear. It's always hard for anyone to get plopped into the middle of a group of his peers, and everyone's looking. Mikey Bradley speaks German and Stevie [Cherundolo] speaks German. Jermaine speaks English, so maybe he feels a little more comfortable that we have those guys around.
It's an easy team to come into. Guys are welcomed with open arms, and we've heard great things about him. It was good to finally have him around. I heard it basically through [journalists] what he's like, and I saw pictures and I read things. So it was really good to get alongside him and talk to him a little bit and meet him and have him around. And hopefully in the buildup he will get fit and be a part of the team. That would be really cool.
SI.com: Do you have any indications of what Jones' chances are for getting healthy for the World Cup?
Howard: I don't know. I've talked to him a little bit, but I don't think he had the ability to put a time frame on it. I'm just hoping he's back running and playing and tackling, and hopefully that's by around May, and then he can integrate into the team and the training. Things like that are a great boost for the morale of the team.
Landon was a perfect example of that. You're used to all the good players you play with, and then someone comes in and adds a bit of life and spunk and spirit, and to have that little injection right before the World Cup would be great. If we can get Charlie back, it would be the same feeling. We're hoping both of them can be back.
SI.com: Have you had a chance to talk to Davies much?
Howard: A little bit since he's been back [in France rehabbing]. He's upbeat. It's hard for me to say, but anytime you have such a tragic instance in your life [Davies was seriously injured in a fatal car crash], it gives you a whole new perspective, new motivation and inspiration. Charlie was a little bit like Stuie -- he was just starting to realize what he could actually accomplish in the game, starting to fulfill some of that potential. He was so confident, scoring in Mexico and the Confederations Cup.
So this may have been the opportunity for him to really step back from the game, whether he wanted to or not. He's rehabbing now, he's back in Europe, and with that hunger, that fire, he's obviously got the goal of being there for the World Cup. That's driving him. He was a fun guy to be around, and I feel like he's even more motivated now. His spirits have been high, and from all accounts he's ahead of schedule, which must make him feel good and continue to motivate him.