Howard the lone bright spot against Sweden
GOTEBORG, Sweden -- There have been times in Tim Howard's career when he's had to play the waiting game. He was forced to bide his time at Manchester United behind starter Edwin van der Sar until he could complete a switch to Everton. He also had to wait his turn at the international level while Kasey Keller's career wound down. But these days, Howard's patience is no longer being tested. He's now starting for both club and country, and his display in the Americans' 1-0 loss to Sweden Wednesday night showed that his grip on the U.S. starting keeper job is becoming ironclad.
On a night when the American performance was decidedly mediocre, it was left to Howard to brighten the proceedings as he twice denied Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic on first-half breakaways to keep the U.S. in the game.
"The ball was in [Ibrahimovic's] court, at his feet, and he's got all of the options," Howard said. "I was kind of a sitting duck, but fortunately I was able to get a piece of things and try and stand up and stay big. On a different night it could have been a different result, but I was happy with the way that happened."
The only blemish on Howard's evening was Kim Kallstrom's 56th-minute blast that not only caught the upper corner, but managed to pass through a thicket of legs on the way, leaving Howard less time to pick up the ball.
"I wasn't able to step into [the shot]," Howard said. "I caught it so late that I just had to fall for it, and I couldn't get a good push. But these are good players. They take half-chances and half-chances go in sometimes."
Howard's night was far from done at that point, and he had to be sharp to parry Kennedy Bakircioglu's fierce blast just one minute later. This ability to recover quickly from temporary setbacks hints at confidence that is sky-high at the moment, something that his change in fortunes has reinforced.
"Confidence coincides with opportunity and Everton gave me that opportunity," Howard said. "It kind of goes hand in hand, and [U.S. head coach] Bob [Bradley] has given me my opportunity as well, so there you go. It's just about trying to perform, coming into these camps, pushing each other, and I feel like I'm doing that."
For Bradley, Howard's contributions are going beyond the saves he makes on the field. The U.S. manager sees his goalkeeper beginning to assume a more commanding role with every national team camp, something the American side is in need of given the international retirements of players like Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride and Eddie Pope.
"When we play these kinds of games in Europe, [Howard's] leadership, his understanding of what is necessary in these games is very important for the whole team," Bradley said. "I see the confidence in him every time we get together. He has come into camp not only feeling good about what he brings on the field, but finding ways to help us create a better environment and helping our young players understand what needs to be put into the effort every day."
And for Howard, it appears that the waiting game is now for others to play.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.