I was 12 when I first took a turn in goal. A challenge had left me with a slightly bruised ankle and we didn't have enough subs to do a full side scrimmage. 12 is that age when an injury isn't a real concern. In your mind, something hurts but if you can stand you can play and so I did. It was to be my first turn in goal and the last time I played in the field.
It almost became a calling. Warm ups, practice, games; I loved it all. Something about hurling my body in front of a ball to stop it seemed peaceful. It was and still is one of the only places I'm truly happy. On the field nothing matters but keeping the ball out of the net. There is a theory of goalkeeping that it is hard to understand, but once you do everything makes sense. Every goal is saveable, a keeper can not save every goal.
I read a Sports Illustrated article not long after I moved in goal. It was about a young American who had made the move to Manchester United. His name was Tim Howard and from that moment he was that boyhood hero for me. I had no clue what MLS was, where Manchester United played, or even what this move meant. But I figured it was a pretty big deal if he was being written about in Sports Illustrated.
From there I followed his career, the highs and lows of his first season at one of England's biggest clubs that ultimately culminated in his arrival at Goodison Park. By then my career had come to a close. A combination of injury and personal circumstance had ended any dream of playing professionally, but I still loved the game, still loved the opportunity to get in goal, and still loved watching Tim Howard. It all culminated in getting a chance to interview Howard for Royal Blue Mersey. I remember seeing the email offer on a run during the summer of 2011. It was summer and I'm pretty sure I sprinted a good 2 miles through a typical Clemson summer just to answer the email. Having to wake up at 8am was no object for me, and even though I'm pretty sure the interview was a trainwreck, it was one of the best moments I've ever had writing for Royal Blue Mersey.
Watching Howard has always been an exercise in frustration. He might be the single most athletic keeper in the EPL, possibly the world. But back in 2007 his athleticism was not complimented by reading the game well. Sometimes you never know what you are going to get with Howard. curious decision that might work out only because of his athleticism, not any sound goalkeeping principle.
We saw the culmination of that work yesterday. Howard was one like every keeper dreams about. It is the rarest of plane sin goalkeeping where everything is perfect. Every angle, every decision, every nick of the ball; all perfect. Every keeper has had that game, and they all come in losses. There is almost a sense of despair at understanding you will play like a brick wall, but will lose in excruciating fashion.
There is an expression in the US called saving your best for last, and Howard most certainly did that yesterday. It is no secret that this is probably his last competitive match for the US. He's 35 and while his contract at Everton runs until 2018, it is hard to see him continuing the punishing regime of travel needed to represent his country. He is likely to follow his predecessor Kasey Keller's footsteps and move aside for an able Brad Guzan.
Maybe Howard gets a sendoff game, or maybe he decides to mosey off into the English sunset. Either way he will always be remembered as a hero to all for one night in Brazil.