The United States soccer team is in an unusual spot this year: front-page news. Unfortunately for them, it’s for the puzzling omission of Landon Donavon in this year’s 2014 FIFA World Cup roster. But Jurgen Klinsmann and his players have to re-focus on what’s been called the “Group of Death” with Germany, Ghana and Portugal. And if the U.S.A. plans to have any hope against such powerful teams, they’ll need goalkeeper Tim Howard to be in amazing form.
Howard is known as one of the leaders of the team, constantly shouting directions on the field and sharing his veteran experience off the field. Barring any unfortunate injuries, he will be looking to become the United States’ most capped goalkeeper in history, and his performances for the national team have backed that up. Extraordinary reflexes, a keen sense of positioning, and a presence inside the area have led the New Jersey native to become a hero for both club and country.
There’s no doubt that Howard will have to channel that experience and skill during the World Cup against a difficult Group G. Even if the U.S. plays a flawless game led by Michael Bradley or Clint Dempsey, there’s simply no way the American defense can hold the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Asamoah Gyan or Mesut Ozil for 90 minutes without an extraordinary goalkeeper.
Howard faces great players week in and week out at Everton, but in a World Cup, one mistake could mean your team’s exit. If Howard is in top form, working as an arguable top-10 talent in the world, the U.S. soccer team actually stands a fair chance.
The best way to neutralize Portugal is by neutralizing Ronaldo, as they’ve only won one of the four games in which Ronaldo didn’t score during 2013. Germany will have to be defended as a team, looking to cut off any circulation that Ozil could give the team. And Ghana’s set pieces and fast players will need to be contained. In all three strategies, Howard will have to play perfectly.
And while he has an immense burden to bear on his shoulders, there’s few goalkeepers in the world that can handle that pressure better than Howard. Don’t buy into stories of an early U.S. exit, at least as long as Howard shows the sublime level he’s proven to be able to play at.