Tim Howard has been praised and given plaudits for his goalkeeping before.
But the Photoshopped pictures of him as Captain America and stopping a meteor on Facebook and Twitter are new.
“With today’s social media, nothing surprises me,” the U.S. World Cup team goalkeeper said Wednesday with a laugh.“There are a lot of creative, funny individuals out there.”
Howard has been a hero to U.S. soccer fans for his more than a decade on the national team. He earned a lot of new admirers these past two weeks at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, particularly Tuesday with his performance of 16 saves that enabled the United States to drag Belgium into extra time before falling 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Despite the loss, Howard’s 16 saves were the most in the World Cup since records starting being tracked in 1966. The previous high was 13 back in 1978.
The Internet quickly was awash in “ThingsTimHowardCouldSave” memes, from catching a meteor to preventing the extinction of the dinosaurs to halting the Titanic from sinking to keeping Mufasa from dying in "The Lion King."
“When you’re in the public eye, it’s part of what you have to deal with,” Howard said about all the attention. “I’ve been dealing with it for a long time. It’s nice to know that America knows about soccer now.”
Unprecedented attention and television viewership followed the U.S. team throughout the World Cup.
Public viewing parties drew crowds across the country for the U.S. games, including the tens of thousands that showed up in places like New York, Kansas City, Kansas, and Chicago Tuesday to marvel at Howard’s exploits against Belgium.
“Every four years, America gets behind this team,” Howard said. “We have a good following. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we get attention every four years. That’s hard to sustain every day.”
Promoting the game of soccer seems to be nearly every American player’s crusade, as it has been for decades. The 35-year-old Howard, a native of North Brunswick, New Jersey, who began his professional career with the New York-New Jersey Metro Stars (now New York Red Bulls) in 1998 before moving to England five years later, has done more than his share for badge and country.
His 104 appearances is the most for a goalkeeper in the history of the U.S. national team, 10th most among all players and only two behind Eric Wynalda. Cobi Jones holds the U.S. record with 164.
With 29-year-old Brad Guzan patiently playing backup for seven years, Howard wouldn’t commit to another World Cup qualifying campaign.
“I signed a four-year contract, an extension with Everton,” Howard said referring to his English club team. “That excites me. It’s all good things, with a club that I love.
“With the national team, I don’t know. The emotions are too raw. I have to sit down and see what the future looks like. Idon’t think it’s black and white. I have to sit down and figure it out."
Before the World Cup, Howard essentially ruled out a return to MLS. But he wasn’t saying no to the U.S. national team.
“A lot goes into that decision,” he said. “Right now, emotions are high. Barring injury, I’m willing to keep going, but a lot more goes into that decision than my physical health.”
Howard already has seen the next generation start their trek up the U.S. national team ladder. The U.S. World Cup team was relatively young, and Howard seemed especially impressed by the youngest members, 19-year-old Bayern Munich winger Julian Green, who scored the goal against Belgium, and 20-year-old Seattle Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin.
“The talent pool is rich,” Howard said. “We had a young team, and even if some didn’t play serious minutes, they will be so much better for it.
“As you saw with Julian Green, who came up with a goal when we desperately needed it, to DeAndre Yedlin, who brings a big smile to my face. He’s a threat to anyone. It’s very exciting for U.S. soccer.”
And if this was Howard’s last World Cup, he’s happy to let history determine his place among other notable U.S. goalkeepers.
“From a legacy standpoint, that’s for others to decide,” Howard said. “I just keep my head down and work hard. Brad (Friedel), Kasey (Keller), Tony (Meola) and myself, we all know where each other stands.
“I’m lucky to be in a long line of great goalkeepers.”
Brian Trusdell is a writer from New Jersey. He has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.