No American player this decade, maybe even in history, has taken advantage of opportunities presented to him and come up bigger in monumental situations.
At the club level, Howard spent the beginning of the decade displaying his quick reflexes and incredible shot-stopping ability with MLS' MetroStars (now Red Bull New York). Howard was so impressive that in '03 he was sold to iconic soccer club Manchester United for $4 million. It was MLS' first big transfer.
Howard won the starting position before the season began and did not disappoint. He became the first American to receive a winner's medal in the FA Cup and in his first season in the Premier League was named to the league's Best XI, the only Manchester United player on the squad.
Howard moved on to Everton, where he immediately cemented himself as the number one. In '09, Howard set the club record for clean sheets in a season.
Howard was also the MLS All-Star game MVP in '09 for his performance in the penalty kick shootout that led Everton to victory and to become the first foreign club to beat the team of All-Stars.
His international career has been relatively brief but he has maximized every moment of it.
Howard was a member of the '00 Olympic team and the '06 World Cup squad, but in '07 he was finally given the opportunity to be the country's number one.
At a time when the national team began to challenge itself with friendlies against world-class competition, Howard established himself as an elite goalie.
In the August '08, on the heels of matches against England and Spain—both in Europe—the U.S. played number one ranked Argentina at Giants Stadium. Howard, a North Brunswick, New Jersey native, had quite the homecoming. Howard put the team on his shoulders and led them to a 0-0 tie. Left out to dry all alone too often, he made seven saves on the night, a number of which were point-blank one-on-one stops that kept the team in the game. Had it not been for Howard that night, the Americans would have most likely been laughed off the pitch.
Another notable performance was in the '09 Confederations Cup against another number one ranked team, Spain. The U.S. shocked the world by winning 2-0 and Howard was brilliant in goal.
The U.S. was outshot 29-9 on the match, but Howard stood strong and turned away scoring chances from Fernando Torres, David Villa, and Sergio Ramos. Howard's game against Spain was named "Most Clutch Performance" in the U.S. Soccer Awards, voted on by fans.
Howard was also awarded the Golden Glove—the tournament's best goalkeeper—for the '09 Confederations Cup.
He was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year in '08. Many also seriously believe that he should have won at least one of the previous three Honda Player of the Year awards.
Some may argue that Donovan's stats and awards should put him atop the list. Some may also argue that the U.S. team would be worse off if Donovan, not Howard, were injured. Some would even point that the above argument for Howard stems from one big transfer and only two games; that there just isn't enough body of work.
Not to downplay Donovan's career, but Howard has become big-time. He has stepped up and put together sensational performances against some of the world's best for both club and country. He was the first big transfer from MLS that paved the way for guys like Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore—and possibly even Landon Donovan himself sometime soon—to move to European giants.
Howard is the United States' only true world-class player. Is there any other U.S. men's national team player that you would consider to be in the top-five at his position out of everyone in the world? Howard is, and that's it.
Sensational skill, marvelous performances, big time clubs, and setting precedent for Americans, especially MLS players, to succeed overseas make Howard the most important American player of the decade.