Tim Howard Elected to Hall of Fame in First Year of Eligibility
Goalkeeper starred in both the U.S. National Team and the English Premier League for nearly two decades
It could not have been more appropriate that Tim Howard’s Major League Soccer debut was sandwiched between uplifting comments from two future members of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Howard’s first start with New York/New Jersey MetroStars came against the Colorado Rapids at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 18, 1998. In a pre-game huddle, midfielder Tab Ramos gave the 19-year-old goalkeeper some words of wisdom:
“This is not the most important game you’re going to play.”
How right Ramos was.
“I just felt he needed to know the team was behind him and let him know we had as much confidence in him as we did in Tony [Meola],” Ramos explained afterward.
Meola was suspended for the match, giving Howard the opportunity to get his feet wet. Howard played like a grizzled veteran that night, making five saves in a 4-1 victory in the rain.
When he returned to the dressing room, a piece of paper was taped to Howard’s locker.
“Tim, Great Job. Had to Go. Tony Meola.”
That was a big deal to someone who watched and admired the U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper while growing up in North Brunswick, N.J.
“I’m going to save that, for sure,” said Howard, who would wear the Red, White and Blue many times himself. “It meant a lot for me for him to say that. The guy was very, very supportive, more than I expected. And I got a win. It’s unbelievable.”
Perhaps the most appropriate word that Howard said at the time was save — a word that became synonymous with his astounding career. After all, Howard made countless saves as a member of three FIFA World Cup teams and numerous club teams on both sides of the Atlantic.
It should come as no surprise that Howard was selected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame on the Player Ballot on his first try. His accomplishments and resume can go on for quite a while. Here is a short list:
He made a U.S.-record 121 international appearances as a goalkeeper, earned the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup’s Golden Glove award (after the USA stunned top-ranked Spain in the semifinals), and secured U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year honors twice (2008, 2014).
He was MLS goalkeeper of the year at the age of 22 in 2001, and he was selected to the MLS Best XI twice.
He holds USMNT records in starts (119) and victories (62), while sitting second behind Kasey Keller (47) in shutouts (42).
The results of his career make perfect sense to anyone who watched Howard play, including longtime friend J.D. Martin, who lived down the street from Howard while growing up.
“No one is surprised because he always had ambition,” he told USSoccer.com in 2019. “He’s had this work ethic. You usually see this guy who has all this athletic ability who just sits on that. You talk to Tim about soccer and the guy knows everything about it.
“He’s just been a student of his position and the game. He’s a pretty polished guy in the board room. I’ve been always motivated by him and inspired by him.”
Howard was born March 6, 1979. His journey to stardom was hardly a smooth ride. He started as a recreational player in North Brunswick and became a goalkeeper against his wishes, according to his mother Esther. Tim Mulqueen conducted weekly clinics at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, N.J., when Esther Howard took her 12-year-old son there for training.
“His technique was raw, and he had to learn, but what he possessed athletically was something I had not seen before in a youth goalkeeper,” Mulqueen told USSoccer.com in 2019. “His mom said it may be difficult to continue to get him there. We worked out an arrangement.”
At the time, Howard had been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repeated involuntary movements and uncontrollable sounds called tics. In some cases, such sounds include inappropriate words and phrases. There is no cure, although its symptoms can be medically treated.
Howard has a mild case; you wouldn’t necessarily recognize it if you hung out with him. Still, he kept it a secret for many years.
“I wasn’t fully diagnosed until 1990,” he said. “The symptoms were there for a year. We were trying to figure out what was happening. Physically, it doesn’t often hinder me. But while I was growing up, trying to suppress and hide it took a toll on me mentally.”
He admitted he was concerned about revealing his condition. What would his teammates say? What would the coaches say? What would the media say?
When he became the MetroStars’ starting keeper in 2021, Howard went public.
Nothing happened with his teammates. The media reported about it in a sensitive matter, and no one doubted Howard’s ability as a goalkeeper.
“It’s not too big, too much of a deal,” Howard told this writer years ago when he played for Everton. “Some opposing fans had a little bit of fun with it. It’s more tongue in cheek. There are a few clever songs that they sing. It makes me smile and laugh, and in turn I can see them smile and laugh. It’s not a negative thing. Tourette syndrome for me and my life, I can’t even begin to remember any negative experience that I ever had.”
Howard became a spokesman for the Tourette Syndrome Association of New Jersey. He earned the 2001 MLS Humanitarian of the Year Award.
“I consider myself a great example of why this condition should not hold anyone back from anything they want to accomplish,” he said at the time. “I love to be able to pass that message on to children who might need some inspiration.”
In the net, Howard thrived and eventually signed with Manchester United in 2003. There, he earned an F.A. Cup winners medal in 2004 and was named the Professional Footballers Association No. 1 keeper. He joined Everton in 2006 and played there through 2016.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned in that time is an undying belief in myself,” Howard said later in his career. “I’ve been through good times. I’ve been through tough times, and I’ve come out on top. That reinforces that belief I have in my ability, and it hardened me. It has given me broader shoulders. It has given me more strength with the position on and off the field. I feel at the moment that all that experience I am using in a very positive way.”
During the USMNT’s surprising fourth-place finish at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Howard did not see a minute of action as Brad Friedel backstopped the team. Yet, he appreciated just being with the team in Australia.
“The Olympics don’t just always mean playing and winning medals,” he said. “It’s the experience and the spirit.”
His patience paid off, and Howard made his USMNT debut in a 1-0 victory against Ecuador on March 10, 2002, in Birmingham, Ala. After serving as a backup for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Howard played every match for the U.S. in the 2010 and 2014 competitions.
Of the hundreds of games in Howard’s career, perhaps two stand out and define his qualities as a soccer player and a man.
In January 2012, he became only the fourth keeper in English Premier League history to score a goal. Playing for Everton, he booted the ball from his penalty area, and it landed about 25 yards from the net before taking a huge bounce over Bolton’s Adam Bogdan and into the net.
Howard didn’t celebrate.
“It’s not a nice feeling for a keeper. It’s really awful actually,” Howard told Sky Sports after Everton lost, 2-1. “For the back four and the goalkeepers at both ends, there was an awful wind swirling. You could see everybody was mistiming balls. Defenders were missing clearances that normally they would put up the field. I think the wind is the hardest condition to play in. Snow, rain, sun doesn't matter, but the wind really does play tricks on you.”
Howard spoke with Bogdan afterwards.
“I let him know that I was feeling for him,” he said. “It’s not a nice place to be. I’ve been there before, a long, long time ago, and that was why I didn’t celebrate.”
But it was in the Round of 16 game against Belgium in the 2014 FIFA World Cup that Howard played the game of his life. He produced a cup-record 15 saves, some of them spectacular, to keep the Americans alive before losing in extra time, 2-1, in Salvador, Brazil.
“None of that really matters for me,” Howard said of the record. “That’s what I signed up to do, my face in front of balls. It’s part of the job. It hurts when you lose. Whether you had no saves or 20 saves it doesn’t mean any more to us.”
Still, it was difficult not to heap praise on him.
“Tim played tonight just phenomenal, was outstanding,” USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “You can just give him the biggest compliments in the world.”
Howard returned to the states to play four seasons with the Colorado Rapids in MLS, from 2016 to 2019. He finished his USMNT career in 2017.
Now 44, Howard has stayed quite close to the game. As part owner of Memphis 901 FC in the USL Championship, Howard took over as sporting director in 2020 and even played in six games during the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.
He has a higher profile on TV as a Premier League analyst at NBC Sports.
And now Howard will join another exclusive group — one that includes former teammates Ramos (2005) and Meola (2012) — when he is inducted to the National Soccer Hall of Fame at a ceremony on May 4 in Frisco, Texas.