U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard made so many great saves against Belgium that it’s difficult to single out the best one. But this one against the Red Devils’ Kevin Mirallas is representative of everything that Howard did to keep his team in a game where they were thoroughly outplayed everywhere except in the net.
In extra time, Belgium finally broke through with two goals, with substitute Romelu Lukaku making the difference for the Red Devils, setting up Belgium’s first goal and scoring the second. A late goal from 19-year-old Julian Green gave the Americans life, but the U.S. could not get the equalizer they needed.
When asked after the game what it felt like to be under constant siege, Howard told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, “That’s my job. That’s what I do.” A man of few words and many saves, Howard finished the match with 16 stops, the most in a World Cup game in half a century. Someone encase that man in bronze.
After the game, ESPN’s American studio analysts Alexi Lalas and Kasey Keller commended the Americans’ pride, bravery, and courage. German Michael Ballack was more dispassionate, noting that the Americans need to improve their technical ability if they want to advance further in the World Cup. Speaking from Los Angeles, Landon Donovan said it best: Once the U.S. gets players like Messi and Lukaku, then the Americans’ competitiveness could push them over the top to World Cup glory. But the U.S. doesn’t have a Lukaku, much less the greatest player in the world. And so for now, pride and courage are good enough to get to the knockout round and no further.
The Belgians’ superior skill was evident throughout the game, particularly in the midfield. It’s fitting, though, that the Americans’ lone world-class player, Howard, came very, very close to stealing this win. And teenager Julian Green’s late goal, as well as 20-year-old defender DeAndre Yedlin’s incredibly strong play off the bench, gives the U.S. hope for the future. These are the kinds of players that the Americans need to continue to develop and/or find in Germany if they want to make it to the quarterfinals or beyond in 2018.
Four years from now, Tim Howard will be 39 years old. In the 2014 World Cup, Colombia goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon played as a substitue at age 43. In my mind, then, Howard has at least two more World Cups to go. See you in Russia, Timmy.