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Tim Howard: A Keeper For U.S. Men’s Soccer Team

By Brian Trusdell | June 20, 2014, 10:25 a.m. (ET)

Tim Howard runs drills during a training session for the U.S. men's soccer team at Sao Paulo FC on June 11, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Even the casual observer of the U.S. national soccer team has grown accustomed to goalkeeper Tim Howard’s animated behavior — the yelling, the clapping, the gesturing.

Sometimes he’s patting a teammate on the back.

Other times …

“You can’t write some of that,” said the 35-year-old Howard, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. team who will lead the squad into its second World Cup group stage game Sunday against Portugal (6 p.m. ET on ESPN/Univision).

“Normally, usually, oftentimes I’m giving them praise, which I think gets lost in the shuffle,” Howard added. “I’m usually, probably telling them that they did something well that they’re supposed to do, just to keep their spirits up. More often than not, I’m orchestrating, telling them what I think I see in terms of where the danger is.

“Trying to organize for 90 minutes, staying on top them. … Sometimes I need to give them a kick up the backside, which happens, and when I do it’s with urgency, because it needs to be done quickly.”

He’s a steadying influence in a defense that has only one other player with World Cup experience: DaMarcus Beasley. And Team USA is looking at Howard as its rock for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The Americans, with Howard in goal, opened this World Cup with a 2-1 victory against Ghana Monday.

Tony Meola, a three-time World Cup goalkeeper for Team USA who is now a talk-show radio host, said this is Howard’s time.

“He’s prepared for this,” Meola said. “This is his World Cup. In a lot of ways, this is his team, especially the defensive unit.

“He’s put himself in a position where entire team trusts him. They expect him back there to bail them out of any mess they’re in.”

Howard already has passed Meola for appearances with the U.S. team and will tie Kasey Keller for most caps by a goalkeeper with 102 when he takes the field Sunday. After turning pro with the MetroStars in 1998, Howard was a backup for the U.S. team that played in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. He made his U.S. national team debut in 2002.

The New Jersey native transferred from the MetroStars to Manchester United in 2003 and has played in the English Premier League since, having moved to Everton in 2006.

He was a backup to Keller at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and then took over as the regular keeper afterward and progressed to where U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has often identified him as one of the top five goalkeepers in the world.

It’s high praise, and one that isn’t lost on his teammates.

“One of Tim Howard’s biggest qualities is his communication,” U.S. defender Matt Besler said. “He gets the best out of everybody. Everything starts with him. The organization, the confidence, he’s talking to us almost too much, it feels like.

“But it’s great. I tell him I never want him to stop talking. Even if I know what to do, he’s still telling me what to do and everything kind of starts with him.”

Howard’s experience and travels might have an added advantage Sunday against Portugal. Howard and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, are former teammates, having played with each other for three years at Manchester United.

“He was a wiry kid,” Howard remembered on ESPN. “He didn’t have the bolt that he has now. He had all the step overs and the hair, and I just kind of thought, ‘He’s flashy but is there any substance?’

“And we found out that he has substance. The incredible thing about Ronaldo is that everything you see on television, he does that every day in training. He’s that gifted of a player.”

Ronaldo’s fitness for the game against Team USA was questionable after he was photographed Wednesday limping out of training with ice wrapped around his left knee. Ailments to his ankle and knee have allowed him to play only twice since helping Real Madrid win the European Champions League final May 24. One of the games he has played in was Portugal’s 4-0 loss to Germany in its World Cup opener.

Regardless, Portugal will be without two regulars in defense: Pepe, who was ejected for a head butt against Germany, and Fabio Coentrao, who injured his thigh in the World Cup opener.

The U.S. team has its own injury concerns. Striker Jozy Altidore injured his hamstring injury in the first half against Ghana Monday and will miss the game against Portugal. Forward Clint Dempsey, who scored Team USA’s opening goal against Ghana, suffered a broken nose in that match.

All of the drama doesn’t seem to have affected Howard, who — participating in his third World Cup — has a Zen state of mind about it all.

“I feel more at ease with this World Cup,” Howard said. “I feel like 2006 I was enjoying the moment. (The World Cup in) 2010 was still exciting. I thought we played well. But it was a different feeling.

“But I feel very comfortable (now),” Howard added. “It’s probably another four years of being experienced, playing another few hundred games in those four years. So, that for me, it’s just kind of calmed down. I’ve settled into a really good groove.”

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.