More than likely, any team that makes a run at the World Cup trophy will have a man between the posts that can bail them out of trouble at least once on the way. It's no different for the United States.
The U.S. will probably need their net-minder to come up big on a couple of occasions. Fortunately for this team, they have just the man for the job.
Tim Howard, the current starter in a long tradition of excellent keepers for the stars and stripes, should be a familiar face in most U.S. households come June.
Here's a few things you should know about the American stalwart who has had a stranglehold on the starting spot for Bob Bradley since first earning it in 2007.
Howard is another in a long line of Americans to come out of the Garden State.
From Tab Ramos and John Harkes to current national team members like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, Howard continues the trend of players to develop from this talented area.
Due in part due to immigrant influence, the area has a strong soccer tradition, and Howard is not likely to be the last American player to call New Jersey home.
Every once in awhile an athlete excels in more than one sport. Tim Howard is no different.
Howard played basketball for his high school and was part of a run to the state finals as a senior. Recently, he was drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters' exhibition squad in recognition of his versatility.
More importantly, he played midfielder as well as goalie. Knowing how field players think and act makes it easier for Howard to see the field and decide what will happen next while standing between the posts.
Be it during the run of play or retrieving a ball from behind the end line, expect Howard to be spouting directions to his teammates.
It's not much of an impact on his game (his tic—a common symptom of Tourette's—is a clearing of the throat), but Tourette's Syndrome affected Howard's self-confidence and assurance growing up.
To help spread awareness, understanding, and to dispel myths (less than 10 percent of those with Tourette's use inappropriate language), Tim Howard has become a spokesperson for the Tourette's Syndrome Association (TSA), participating in a public service announcement for the organization.
His good will earned him an MLS Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2001.
Also, Tourette's hasn't stopped Howard from being one of the most interviewed players on the national team, another point emphasized by the TSA.
Most recently, Howard was awarded the Golden Glove at the 2009 Confederations Cup for his display in goal.
But that's only the latest addition to his list of accomplishments:
2001 Named the Youngest ever MLS Goalkeeper of the year
2004 Was the first American to be part of a team that has won the FA cup (with Manchester United)
2004 Named to the PFA best XI in his first year in England
2008-Set the club record for most clean sheets at Everton and was the first goalkeeper for his club to post a less than 1.00 goals against average.
2008 U.S. Soccer Athlete of the year
2009 MLS All-Star Game MVP (while playing for Everton)
When the U.S. finally drafted a plan for a nationally-organized player development, players like Howard were only a dream.
However, through a concerted effort of both club and country, this net-minder has become the poster boy for the benefits of a nationally funded soccer movement.
Starting at 15, Tim Howard has been playing for his country. In 1998 it was with the U-17's; 1999, with the U-20's at the FIFA Youth Championships. In 2000, he was on the Olympic team, had his first senior cap in 2002, and was on the bench for the 2006 World Cup.
The call-ups took a tremendous amount of coordination and compromise from his club teams at the time, but it paid off as it allowed Howard to reach his potential during a time when he played domestically.
Tim Howard started playing professional soccer a month before he graduated high school. He debuted for the USISL's New Jersey Imperials in 1997.
Tim Mulqueen convinced Howard to play for the Imperials. When Mulqueen—who was splitting time between the Imperials and coaching the goalkeepers for the MetroStars—believed Howard was ready to play in the MLS, he quickly called him up.
When Manchester United came calling in 2003, it seemed like Howard's meteoric rise had reached its pinnacle; wherever he went, success followed.
It all changed in the pressure cooker that is Old Trafford. Add a young keeper, high expectations, stiff competition, and some bad luck, and you have a recipe for strife and struggle, which is exactly what happened.
At first, Howard seemed to shine for the Red Devils, but after some mental mistakes and the blame for a premature exit from the Champions League tournament, Howard to soon found himself on the bench.
Over the next two seasons, Howard fought to re-establish himself as the starting goalkeeper.
Just as he believed he had solidified his role with the club at the end of 2005—signing a new contract in the process—United turned to International keeper Edwin van der Sar, and Howard was on the outs once again.
After an acrimonious split—Howard let the media know of his displeasure in van der Sar's signing, stating that he wouldn't have signed a new contract if he knew he was going to be replaced from outside—but a move to Everton gave Howard the opportunity to prove himself once again.
Eventually, the move to Everton was made permanent, and Howard had once again earned a starting role for the Toffees.
What most people notice in a keeper is their physical abilities, be it their reach, dive, leap, or even just their length.
But for Howard, his intelligence might be his most valuable quality.
However he came about it, Howard relies just as much on his anticipation as he does from his agility. This allows him to be one step ahead of a cross or a shot, so he is able to get to balls other keepers might miss.
However, what may be a benefit in most situations can sometimes be a flaw, and unfortunately there have been a few occasions where Howard has found himself out of position because of his gambles.
Still, Howard's decisions are often more right than wrong, and his teammates have benefited from his ability to read the game.
Those close-ups on Howard's face where he's yelling commands aren't for the cameras.
Comments from coaches and observers maintain that Howard is one of the most focused players whenever the national team is in camp.
Unlike other players that "turn it on" for games, his motor is always running. No matter what the drill, Howard's giving it his all, and he's encouraging those around him to put forth as much effort.
His work ethic is another reason why he is often categorized with the best goalkeepers in the world.
Within the United States, Howard's reputation is impeccable and many believe him to be as good as any in the world.
However, it's not the same outside of American borders. Jose Manuel Reina, Edwin van der Sar, Iker Casillas, Julio Cesar, and Gianluigi Buffon have international reputations that may exceed Howard's.
A strong World Cup showing could change all of that.
Howard plays in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. What may be the only thing separating him from the aforementioned group is a place on an elite team. At this point, the only way to earn that place is by ousting one of the other goalies.
A great World Cup could do wonders for Howard to get another shot at one of the coveted positions. With a number of the top goalkeepers reaching the end of their careers, Howard's chance might be just around the corner.