Everton fans will remember Tim Howard as a good, not great, keeper
After more than a decade away, the much-discussed Major League Soccer return is now a reality for Tim Howard as the 37-year-old prepares to join the Colorado Rapids this summer. Without a first-team appearance in two months, this homecoming suits all parties and offers Howard increased first-team football and a chance to be nearer his family.
For Everton supporters, news of Howard's departure broke at the end of another weekend spoiled by home defeat. Given mounting fan frustration at consecutive seasons of underachievement, you could forgive supporters greeting the story with a flippant response. In all fairness, Howard's performances across the last two seasons almost encouraged a "thank goodness" reaction to this story.
Howard peaked at the 2014 World Cup against Belgium, when his heroic 15-save display set a new competition record. Club form has rarely come close to those levels since, with away draws at Tottenham and Manchester City acting as rare recent reminders of the quality that used to surface more often.
Even at the top of his game, Howard remained able to undo previous good work in an instant. While many reasons are put forward for the 2009 FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea, there are still those who feel aggrieved at the ease with which a speculative Frank Lampard effort decided the match.
This nagging trend, among other things, is why Howard falls short of the Everton goalkeeping greats. Comparisons to Neville Southall do neither player any favours, while Nigel Martyn has a strong case for the club's best in the modern era.
Never the most physically imposing, Howard struggled to exert the authority expected at this level. At its worst, failure to command the penalty area became a reluctance to venture beyond the goal line. This longstanding issue reached a tipping point earlier this season when supporters ironically cheered a routine catch.
Howard's subsequent sarcastic applause underlined a deteriorating relationship with fans tired of his increasing errors. Blame soon shifted to manager Roberto Martinez, though. Howard was struggling; he was no longer a reliable presence and needed time out of the team.
Instead, Martinez began to stretch credibility as he stubbornly refused to replace his trusted last line of defence. This refusal merely accelerated Howard's decline and heightened a tense Goodison atmosphere.
But while the ending is a messy situation seemingly more appropriate for the playground than the football pitch, this petulance (from all sides) was not always the norm, and an untidy last hurrah should not detract from a goalkeeper who holds the club records for Premier League appearances (352) and clean sheets (115).
There was even a goal to celebrate along the way, when Howard embarrassed Adam Bogdan with a wind-assisted clearance in a 2-1 home defeat to Bolton in 2012.
Howard joined on a season-long loan in 2006-07 after three mixed years at Old Trafford. The then-Everton manager David Moyes saw enough promise and gambled on the Manchester United goalkeeper finding greater consistency at Goodison. The loan becoming a permanent deal midway through the same season suggested Moyes had his answer.
Howard produced his best (or at least his most dependable form) for 2008-09, when the Blues finished fifth and reached a first FA Cup final in 14 years. An excellent campaign led to a new club record for most Premier League clean sheets in a season (17), with 20 shutouts in 48 matches in all competitions highlighting the kind of defensive qualities this current side so desperately require.
Quick reflexes and strong shot-stopping ability were the prominent traits when Howard was on top form.
Appearance figures reflect the near ever-present status enjoyed throughout most of this 10-year spell. Starting with his Everton debut in August 2006, Howard missed only four of the next 255 league games en route to a club record 210 successive Premier League appearances.
Howard ranks 13th on appearances in all competitions (412) and is the only Everton goalkeeper to post 100 or more Premier League clean sheets (115). A further 17 clean sheets in all competitions puts Howard (132) in third place behind club legends Gordon West (155) and Southall (269) on the all-time list.
Howard won silverware at United, but his time at Everton characterises his 13 years in the Premier League. It is somewhat fitting, then, that arguably his defining moment in English football involved the two clubs he graced in his time here.
Everton beat United at Wembley in the 2009 FA Cup semifinal, winning 4-2 on penalties. Howard saved the first two penalties, and when centre-back Phil Jagielka scored the decisive spot kick, teammates rushed to mob their goalkeeper.
As the Z-Cars theme blasted from the Wembley speakers, Howard turned toward the Everton supporters and raised both arms aloft in victory. In an instant, his emotions got the better of him and the bottom lip began to quiver.
For those unsure how to recall his decade at Goodison, that is as good a moment as any: a good goalkeeper who seemed to cherish the club the same way supporters do.