U.S. keeper Howard opens up (cont.)
SI.com: There was a nice moment after your win on Sunday when Donovan made what might end up being his farewell lap at Goodison Park. How would you describe how his stay here has gone?
Howard: His stay has been fantastic. He's jelled into the club, and people have really accepted him. He's really gotten along with the guys and the people around the club and the staff members. The fans have taken to him, which is a no-brainer. You come in and help Everton win, and they're going to love you. That's just the way they are.
On the field he's done really well. He's showed his talent getting forward, running at people, and he's got a fantastic touch and a nose for the goal when he gets there. He'll kind of be like a cult hero here, because he's here-today-gone-tomorrow, and in that little time he played really well. So he's going to leave people wanting so much more, and that's a good thing. The fans have really taken a liking to him, and you saw that [Sunday]. It was probably his last game at Goodison.
SI.com: David Moyes was saying that Donovan had been welcomed to the club well by his teammates, but he singled out you and captain Phil Neville. What have you guys done?
Howard: Made him the butt of most of our jokes [laughs]. Phil's a phenomenal captain, and he really has his finger on the pulse of the club and knows what makes people go and work. He's been fantastic for Landon. And, of course, me just being a friend and a national-team teammate and an American has helped him. He lives by me, and that was by design. Landon is a big boy, so he doesn't need me to hold his hand, but at the same time it's always nice to have a familiar face to bounce questions off of or ask if you're doing the right thing and to kind of be a buffer. That's really what Phil and I have done. And not just us. There's been plenty of people who have been welcoming for Landon. It's been a great time.
SI.com: Do the U.S. players who are part of the clubs in this northwest part of the country hang out much together away from the field?
Howard: You know what, not a whole lot. Me and Landon and Stuie have probably gotten together way more often. We're always playing on the same day, we're traveling here, there and everywhere. And our schedules, whether most people want to believe it, are pretty brutal. So there's not a heck of a lot of time for us to be getting together. Every couple of weeks we get together for dinner. But we're always in connection.
SI.com: Donovan told me he would like to stay longer at Everton, but it's out of his hands. It may depend on the MLS labor situation. Would you like for him to stay, and what do you think his chances are?
Howard: I think chances are slim, based on what I think I know about the situation. Of course, listen, we all think he's a phenomenal player who adds so much to our team. Why wouldn't you want him to stay? He's showed his class and what he can do. But loads of things come into it: obligations and MLS and the Galaxy and finances. It would be great even if he could extend his stay, but that would just be icing. Because at the moment we're all resigned to the fact that next week will be his last game.
SI.com: The U.S. national team is done with games until the pre-World Cup camp starting in mid-May. How do you feel about the U.S.' chances right now in South Africa?
Howard: I feel good about the team. In terms of chances, that's probably a question of how far we get and what's failure and what's success. I won't make any predictions other than the known fact is the three teams that we get to play [in the group stage]. And I think within that group [England, Algeria, Slovenia] we should get through our group. If we play like we've been playing the last few years, particularly in the big games, we have the ability to go through.
Having said that, it's not going to be as easy as that. We have to go out and perform over the course of three segments of 90 minutes against teams that are going to be fighting tooth and nail to kick our behinds. So I do realize that. But I feel like when we're playing at a really high level, this is a group that we have the ability to get through. Now having said that, we could be talking in July about a whole different ballgame. But at the moment where this team is, we can go there and perform and go into all those games very, very confident.
SI.com: You already play in a league that may be the most watched on the planet. We could probably put you on a street corner in Kenya right now and you'd get mobbed. But how aware are you of the power of the World Cup to make a player a truly global superstar?
Howard: I'm well aware of it. In this World Cup you're going to get a player who maybe you and I know, but most people don't know, who scores a goal or maybe whips in three great crosses, and the next think you know he's linked with big European teams. It doesn't take much to get noticed. And the way the world works today with the Internet, it doesn't take much for a player to get noticed. With some, they'll just get a Twitter account and tell people how good they are and that's all they need.
SI.com: That reminds me, I haven't seen you on Twitter yet.
Howard: No, no, no. I think it's the dumbest thing ever [laughs]. If you're on it I apologize, but for me I don't need Twitter. I always tell people, "Listen, if you're a friend of mine and you're on Twitter and I need to figure something out, I'll call you, I'll text you." The only person I would want to see on Twitter would be Barack Obama.
SI.com: Obama is on Twitter.
Howard: Well, that's the only person I would care what they're doing. I don't think I'd care what any other individual in the world would be doing at one particular moment but him.
SI.com: You see the England players you'll be facing on June 12 all the time. What would you be satisfied with getting out of that game, and how hard will it be?
Howard: It's probably going to be one of the toughest games we've ever played. When all is said and done, I think England will be one of the four semifinalists. I really believe that. This is an amazing England team. They don't always get that credit here at home, but they're going to be a heck of a team to reckon with. Going into the first game we would like a positive result, and I don't think a draw is selling ourselves short. Having an ability to get a draw in the first game sets you up to keep pushing and feel good about yourself going into the next couple of games.
Having said that, as much as you want to have a good start, there are still two other [group] games. You saw it in Confederations Cup. We didn't have a great start, but in the end it worked out. So regardless of the result, we'll hold out hope. But I feel like with all the work that is going to be put in and has already been put in, if we can at a minimum pull out a draw there, we'll feel really good about ourselves.
SI.com: In the 2-1 loss at the Netherlands last week, it seemed like the U.S. strategy was to allow the other team possession, stay compact and try to strike when the chance came up. We've seen that strategy in difficult games against other opponents. Are you comfortable with that approach?
Howard: Yeah. Look, the bottom line was whether we allowed them to or not, they were going to have the lion's share of possession because of how good they are. And when you play the top teams in the world -- and they're one of them -- you might not have much of a choice. Certainly the foundation of what we do -- keep our lines tight, be very compact, defend our 18-yard box and when we have the ability strike quickly and go forward and counter on their mistakes -- over the course of this cycle it has worked for us. Historically that's what we've been. Even in our run in 2002 to the quarterfinals, there wasn't much difference there either. It was a compact unit that defended very well and took its chances on the break.
When you play the big teams, it would be very difficult for us to dominate those games. When you play Brazil and Manchester United and the big teams, they don't get dominated very often. They don't lose very often. So you have to kind of play the cards that you're dealt. We realize our strengths, and that's part of our strength as a unit: staying compact, getting all over the field and trying to put pressure on.
In Holland in the first half of that game we were very good in stretches. Yes, they had the amount of possession, but they didn't cause a whole lot of problems. I think the best shot they had on goal was from Josť Torres at our own goal from 40 yards out [laughs]. And Wesley Sneijder gets in the box and gets pulled down for a penalty. Had he not been pulled down he would have been in a very good shooting position, so we would have had to defend that. In that first half you look at one play that defined a lot of the game, but they didn't pepper us. They caused us problems, but we solved a lot of them as well.
SI.com: How long do you think it will take for the U.S. to be in the kind of position that the Netherlands was in during that type of hard game, where it dominated possession?
Howard: For me, the answer is we need to have the majority of our players playing a very high level consistently. You look at that game, look at Holland, their players are at Bayern Munich and Real Madrid and Inter Milan. That big setting is nothing to them. To take the ball against international players is nothing to them. They see it every day in training, every week. They're on the field for 90 minutes every single week in big games where the expectations are high. And until you do that, you can't replicate it. It can't be that you play those big games once every three months. It's got to be every single week. And until we can get 11, 15, 22 of our players doing that, it'll be a reach.
SI.com: This is the first time I can remember that the U.S. is favored to get out of its group at the World Cup. Is that a fair expectation?
Howard: I think so. It's hard because you don't ever want to disrespect anybody. I might be guessing in Algeria they're thinking to themselves, We have a chance of getting out of this group, too. But from where I sit, yeah. A lot of that has to do with the games that we've played. Bob [Bradley, the U.S. coach] made a conscious decision to play big games abroad: Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa, Netherlands, Poland, England, Spain. As opposed to past years, where not only have we qualified in CONCACAF but our friendlies were in Boston against Jamaica or in D.C. against Canada.
So now you're thinking, When we get to the World Cup it's on foreign soil against big teams; how are we going to fare? We've shown somewhat of a consistency. We haven't won every game, but we have beaten some teams on foreign soil: Switzerland, Poland and Spain in South Africa. So there have been games that have given people a reason to believe we will get out of the group if we play well enough.