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Feb 8, 2008

Howard happy with life at Goodison

Money isn't an issue nowadays for Tim Howard, but he still loves to get things on the cheap. Just after Christmas, he spotted a good deal on a pair of jeans and snapped them up. As things are turning out, his move to Everton was a bargain, too.

In his second season, the 28-year-old New Jersey native is the undisputed No. 1 keeper with the Toffees and is tied for fourth in the Premier League in clean sheets, what every stopper craves. Take away the so-called big four -- Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and city rival Liverpool -- and he leads the way along with Portsmouth's ageless David James. (Yes, we're aware defense is a team concept.)

Not bad considering Howard was bought for the relatively paltry sum of about $6 million from United. His form has helped put Everton in contention for the much-coveted fourth and final Champions League spot since Liverpool is struggling on and off the field.

"I am who I am, and for me I'm quite happy with it," Howard said. "Being the age that I am, I'm the keeper that I'm going to be. I don't think there are any wholesale changes to be made. At this stage, I could analyze every game and say I could have done this better, but I try not to overanalyze things. If I have a good game I try to build on that, if there's a game I wasn't so good, I try to make up for it the next."

When he first arrived in the U.K. during that whirlwind summer of 2003, Howard admitted he needed to develop the aerial component of his game, as in, dealing with the crosses so prevalent in English soccer. Five years later, he says he's content with the progress he's made.

His reflexes have rarely been questioned, and Everton's no-nonsense Scottish manager, David Moyes, said in December that Howard's command of the area is good and teammates, vitally, seem to listen to him. The move to Everton was clinched following a successful loan spell.

"He's been a tremendous signing, and he is another big character, another man, in the dressing room," Moyes said. "The players respect him because of the type of person he is, with the way he works, and from that point of view the rest of the squad all like him."

The feeling appears to be mutual. Howard is proud of Everton's history -- though still a poorer relation to Liverpool, the team has claimed nine league titles, five F.A. Cups and one European trophy -- and one of its most storied players was a keeper, Neville Southall. Everton has a new state-of-the-art training complex and wants to build a 50,000-seat stadium to replace Goodison Park.

He also had an instant rapport with Moyes.

"The one thing for me that I really latched onto when I met David was his honesty," Howard said. "He said, `When you're good, I'll tell you about that, and when you're bad, I'll tell you.' That's all you can ask for as a player. I love his desire and ambition to win because it matches mine."

Speaking of desire, ambition -- and success -- few clubs in the world can match Manchester United, Howard's first, and much publicized, stop in England.

To summarize, his time at Old Trafford went like this: The first season he was regarded as the best goalkeeper in the division -- a stunning performance at Bolton was a highlight -- and named to what's essentially the league's all-star team; a loss of form resulted in mostly a backup role behind Roy Carroll in season two; and Howard was a benchwarmer behind Dutch stalwart Edwin van der Sar in 2005-2006.

Despite the way it ended, he wasn't about to bad-mouth anyone.

"To get a chance to play at United and have that be my first real international experience was priceless," he said. "I think if you don't go to a team like United, you'll spend your whole career wondering what that's like. I learned so many things, from the good things to the bad, which hopefully every player should [learn] from. I learned from Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, loads of players who were larger than life yet everyday they produced. That really stuck out to me."

Howard once said being with United was akin to traveling with a rock band. When it was suggested that Everton might be considered a jazz band, he laughed and offered a "that's cool."

"Obviously two or three clubs in every country will have a similar effect," said Howard, who lives with wife Laura and their two kids, 2½-year-old Jacob and 8-month-old Alivia. "They have players that capture everyone's imagination. It was like that with United, it's not like that at Everton. It's different, but I quite like it."

Howard, collected his second straight shutout in Saturday's 0-0 draw at Blackburn, where a bizarre off-side ruling deprived Everton of all three points. Everton, currently fourth, leads Liverpool by a point with one more game played.

Other Americans abroad in the news

Ohio's Brad Friedel, in his 300th English league game, notched his second shutout in six games for Rovers over the weekend against Everton in a 0-0 draw, and on Tuesday signed a one-year contract extension until June 2010.

"Blackburn Rovers is home to me," the 36-year-old, who joined in November 2000, told the club web site. "When you sign with a club, you always hope that it will turn out to be long term, and that has certainly proved true for me here."

In other matches featuring U.S. players in the Premier League last weekend, striker Brian McBride, out since August with a knee injury, and goalie Kasey Keller, sidelined since October due to an arm injury, were back in Fulham's squad. McBride contested the final 20 minutes in a much-needed 2-1 home win over Aston Villa, while Keller was on the bench. Midfielder Clint Dempsey saw 79 minutes of action, and defender Carlos Bocanegra was an unused sub. A fifth American at Craven Cottage, new signing Eddie Johnson, didn't make the bench.

Fulham edged closer to escaping relegation, but Reading is headed in the opposite direction. Keeper Marcus Hahnemann saved a penalty, though the Royals still lost 2-0 at home to Bolton to slide to fourth last. Jonathan Spector was an unused sub in West Ham's 1-0 loss at Wigan.

Ravi Ubha is a London-based freelance journalist covering Americans abroad for ESPNsoccernet. He also covers tennis for ESPN.com.