Under Bob Bradley, the United States Men’s National Team was a reactive team: play tough defense, withstand pressure from the opposition and go on the counter attack when the other team overextends itself and is vulnerable.
With Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm, the USMNT is working on being a proactive team, attacking and imposing its will on its opposition.
The similarity of both regimes is that they both rely on Tim Howard being at his best.
In the team’s 1-0 victory over Honduras, the goalie was once again asked to play hero in net in order to preserve a positive result, just like he has time and time again since being named the No. 1 keeper in 2007.
Howard made six saves, a number of which showcased his incredible athleticism, and was named Budweiser Man of the Match.
The win was his 37th for the red, white and blue, tying him for second with Tony Meola on the all-time wins list, behind only Kasey Keller (53). And he has earned every single one of them, not to mention the ties the team has a direct result of his stellar play.
Against Honduras, Howard made several big saves. In the 18th minute, Honduras sent a ball over the top of the defense that Jerry Bengston collected and went in 1-vs-1 on Howard, but the keeper made a point blank stop to deflect the shot away.
He made a diving save on Carlos Costly in the 26th, and then in the second half, he made a leaping grab on a long range shot from Boniek Garcia.
“Tim is getting to a time in his career where he realizes these are the golden years for him ahead,” Klinsmann told the media after the game. “We really enjoy what he brings to the table.”
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Howard is one of only two players to start all four games under Klinsmann (Carlos Bocanegra is the other). His consistently strong play is very important to the new German head coach right now.
As the team is adjusting to playing a more attacking style, they sometimes get caught too far up field. The formation has changed, with only one defensive midfielder as opposed to the two the team used to put on the field. So on the counterattack, there are only five players back to defend at most.
If (and at times when) a player is beat or when there is a lot of space, many shots come through. It is up to Howard to save them and bail out the rest of the team while they (hopefully) hustle back.
Howard’s ability to make spectacular and clutch saves lets the rest of the team continue to learn how to attack and go up field, make and learn from mistakes and allows the team not to get frustrated giving up a number of goals and revert back to their old less productive ways.
Klinsmann knows he needs good goalkeeping during these experimental times so the players can learn on the fly, but the team can still get results that aren’t too discouraging. One only has to look at his roster selections to see the faith that he has placed in Howard.
Brad Guzan has been the first-choice backup behind Howard the past few years and has started big games during World Cup qualifying and the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. But he hasn’t been called up to the National Team by Klinsmann yet. Neither has Marcus Hahnemann, the third goalkeeper on the 2010 World Cup team and Howard’s new teammate at Everton.
The backup has been Bill Hamid, a 20-year old goalie for D.C. United that has not made an appearance for the United States at any level.
There were games in the past, like the Argentina friendly at Giants Stadium or the game against England to open the 2010 World Cup, that the USA would not have gotten a point in had it not been for Tim Howard.
Last night, even with a new coach and new philosophy, was no different. And as the U.S. team continues to work on its attacking style of play and new young players are brought into the fold, nothing will be more important than the veteran and extremely talented presence of Howard.