In what was potentially his final game with the U.S. men’s national team, Tim Howard had the best performance of his illustrious career.
Against a star-studded Belgian team that’s considered one of the most dangerous in Europe, Howard stood on his head for his country, breaking the record for most saves in a World Cup match with 16.
But it wasn’t just the quantity of saves that was impressive, the quality of Howard’s stops were otherworldly as well.
On a night where the United States was thoroughly dominated by the Belgians, Howard kept his team in the match with his heroic performance. His efforts were so impressive that FIFA named him the Man of the Match (an award he also received in the U.S.’s draw against Portugal) despite his team’s loss, and Belgian center back and captain Vincent Kompany took to Twitter to offer a few words of respect to the American goalkeeper:
— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) July 1, 2014
It was a touching sign of respect towards a player that has represented the United States with nothing but class throughout his career, during which he has set U.S. records for most caps (104) and wins (55) by a goalkeeper. There were many personnel questions at several positions facing the U.S. heading into the World Cup, but goalkeeper wasn’t one of them. On Jürgen Klinsmann’s young American squad, Howard’s veteran presence and leadership was an invaluable asset.
Of course, whether of not this is the end of his international career remains to be seen, but he has stated that he intends on retiring once current his deal with Everton ends at the conclusion of the 2017-18 Premier League season.
However, there’s certainly no guarantee that Howard, 35, would still be the starter for the United States in four years. Even if Howard chose to continue to play on the national team, backup keeper Brad Guzan looks to be more than capable of taking the torch from his predecessor if he were to retire.
If this was his final game with the Stars and Stripes, it’s hard to imagine that he could’ve had a better swan song. His hands and feet were the only thing keeping the Americans in the game, but alas even his Superman-esque performance wasn’t enough to keep the U.S.’s country-uniting run alive any longer. Howard simply didn’t deserve to be on the losing end of this match, and his emotional postgame interview had to make you feel for the man who had nothing left to give for his team.
Landon Donovan may be the most iconic player in American soccer history, but there’s definitely a case to be made that Tim Howard is the greatest. And never has the star of this all-time great shined brighter than it did on Tuesday evening in Salvador, Brazil, where Tim Howard almost single-handedly willed the United States past Belgium and into the quarterfinals of the World Cup.