USA Star Tim Howard on His World Cup Heroics, Russia 2018 and Jurgen Klinsmann

Ian Rodgers@irodgers66World Football Staff WriterNovember 26, 2014

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If one man underlined the madness that can engulf the World Cup finals, it is Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The United States international was at the heart of his country's successful campaign in Brazil, creating a new World Cup record of 15 saves in the last-16 tie with Belgium.

Ultimately, Howard's heroics would count for nothing, as the Red Devils claimed an extra-time victory to knock Jurgen Klinsmann's team out of the tournament.

But the goalkeeper's new record saw him elevated to an unexpected level of fame, which included a phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Howard told Bleacher Report, "I live a pretty easy life and I don’t take myself too seriously, so all that stuff was nice and great to look back on with fondness. But I don’t get too overawed by it.

"It wasn't until I got pulled for doping immediately after the game that somebody mentioned the record to me.

"When LeBron James scores 50 points, he knows he's in the rhythm. He knows he feels good. The same went for me in that game.

"My angles were good, I felt like the ball was hitting me, and I was in good areas. Those are the things you think about, and then the next play, organising the defence and making sure the next shot doesn't happen. You never, ever count your saves.

"Having said that, there have been times where I've touched the ball only once or twice and thought, 'I've been in one heck of a game there.' You are just caught up in the moment."

That match at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador proved to be the final act in a World Cup chapter few predicted when the draw for the group stages was made.

The U.S. men's national soccer team were pooled with eventual winners Germany, Portugal and Ghana in Group G of the tournament, but Howard insists Klinsmann and his team-mates viewed the situation differently.

He said, "For us, as much as it was considered a Group of Death, we felt the way the games were stacked, we had an opportunity to go into the last match of the pool with a chance of progressing.

"Playing Ghana first was the best matchup for us. If we won that game, that was three points already, which would mean the last game would have to count for us.

"The 2-2 draw against Portugal was unjust. We played unbelievably well. That was the best game I had been involved in wearing a U.S. jersey.

"We took it to a top team, put them on the back foot and really controlled the tempo."

Howard is currently on a one-year hiatus from international duty to spend more time with his family, but he has been watching Jurgen Klinsmann's team with a vested interest ahead of his return next season.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The USMNT have won just once in their five matches since the World Cup, including successive defeats to Colombia and the Republic of Ireland in their last two outings.

But the 35-year-old insists nobody should be losing sleep over the recent results, with the World Cup in Russia in 2018 the ultimate goal for Klinsmann and the players.

Howard said, "What people have to understand about Jurgen is that his focus is on Russia. It's not about beating certain teams.

"Of course, everyone wants to win, but he has to identify players, create a good squad with a balance of old and young, and you don't do that in September and October of 2014. He’s looking at what it's going to be like in 2018.

"It's not so much about one particular result as much as it is about the one ultimate goal.

Scott Heppell/Associated Press

"He has a belief in that process. He is not concerned about his position and whether his job is secure. He has a focus, and his focus has always been the World Cup.

"He treated the last cycle in exactly the same way. That's why every summer he said, 'We are going to have five games because our objective in 2014 is to play in the group stages and get through.'

"So he mimicked that every summer, and there was a reason for it. We could have played two games and then gone on holiday, but he has a method in what he is trying to achieve."

The quest for the USMNT, Klinsmann and Howard is now improving on their 2014 World Cup achievements in Russia in four years' time.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Tim Howard of the United States in action during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Ima
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

And the Everton goalkeeper maintains individual improvement will help the Americans take a step further in 2018.

Howard said, "The measuring stick is always how well you did in a World Cup, but that's not always accurate.

"It's about the draw, injuries. It is very, very tough to win five or six games in a short period. That’s a tough ask.

"We need to continue to improve on an individual level. Our players need to continue to get better.

"As a team, I think we're fine. What the Americans have always had is good team chemistry, and we've always played for each other. We don't have any egos.

"But it's about the individual player getting better in the next four years. Hopefully with the players we have and new ones coming in, we will continue to get better."

For now, however, Howard will continue to enjoy his life away from the international game and the rest the additional time off from football brings.

He added, "I'm enjoying it quite a lot. I've been able to have the understanding of both my club and international manager, and it's been great to use the international breaks to have some rest and, most importantly, see my children and just enjoy that time with them.

"Mentally, I'm strong, and physically, I feel great, so there was no need for a rest in that regard. I just needed time with the kids.

"I need to prioritise in that regard, and taking a year away from the international team has given me that opportunity."

And with White House Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel having vacated his role under Obama, a few wags have already suggested Howard's name as a successor. Could a political career be beckoning?

Howard laughed and said, "The president hasn't been in touch since. I saw that [Hagel leaving his job]. My phone is on, so…"

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