U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard was the hero of the team's 2-1 loss to Belgium on Tuesday, earning FIFA Man of the Match honors, respect from Belgium captain Vincent Kompany, and was even briefly named the U.S. Secretary of Defense (on Wikipedia, anyway.)
Howard has been the U.S. number-one choice in net for the past seven years, but he is 35 years old and many believe this will be his last World Cup. What's his future with U.S. soccer?
He'll be 39 for the 2018 World Cup
Ah, if he were only younger. Tim Howard joined MLS in 1998 and for the past 16 years has impressed at both the international and club level. His time at Manchester United may have had rocky patches, but since 2007 he's been one of the most reliable keepers in the Premier League with Everton, where he's made nearly 300 appearances.
Goalies traditionally peak later than field players, but it remains to be seen if Howard will be able to play (or want to play) when he's closing in on 40.
Don't count out 39-year-old goalies
The two goalies who owned the U.S. position before Howard came along — Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel — both played the position at a top level into their early 40s. Friedel is 43 and still with Tottenham Hotspur, one of the better clubs in the Premier League, and Keller played into his 40s as well before retiring in 2011.
At 39, Howard may not have the movement he once had, but he will still be able to see the field, orchestrate the defense, and trust his hands to make important stops.
The U.S. does have Brad Guzan
The one thing stopping Howard from holding on to his starting spot is current American backup keeper Brad Guzan. Guzan is 29 years old, six years younger than Howard, and will be in his relative goalkeeping prime at 33 in the next World Cup. Guzan has also had an incredible run in the Premier League as the keeper for Aston Villa, playing so well in net he was voted Villa's 2012-13 player of the year for his efforts.
Despite Howard's brilliance, Klinsmann is no sentimentalist, and odds are Guzan will quickly be named the U.S. new starting keeper so he can start getting comfortable with the role and establish a connection with his defenders.
Even Howard had to agree. In an interview on The Dan Patrick Show, Howard tipped Guzan to be the starting keeper in 2018, saying: "I would imagine at the moment the way things look I think Brad Guzan [would be the starter.] He's a top top goalkeeper … he's a dear friend and his talent is incredible."
He also said he hadn't thought too much about it: "I can barely see next week, much less four years down the road." I got you. YOLO, Tim. YOLO.
Howard should still be on the team anyway
He'll be 39 years old. He won't be as fast off his line. He might not be able to dive like he used to. Tim Howard should still be on the World Cup team in 2018. FIFA demands that teams bring three goalkeepers to the tournament, and even if Guzan is entrenched as the starter and some young hotshot goalie is the backup, Howard has earned that third goalkeeper spot if he's healthy.
I actually think he'll still be the number-2 behind Guzan then, but on the off-chance he isn't the first choice backup, Howard still deserves to go to Russia. He's earned that much.