CHESTER, Pa. — A day before the Philadelphia Union were set to clash with English Premier League side Everton FC, several Union players spoke very highly of Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.
However, they won’t get a chance to deliver any of those compliments in person during Wednesday’s much-anticipated international friendly at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET, Comcast Sportsnet).
In a surprise move, an Everton official said Tuesday that Howard, the starting ‘keeper for the US national team, did not made the trip to Philadelphia because he had been given time to rest following his participation in the CONCACAF Gold Cup last month.
“We’re really surprised,” said Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz. “One of the reasons we entertained Everton’s call was because of Tim Howard. We were under the impression that he was playing. It’s disappointing, but game on. I’m sure it will still be a good game.”
Howard’s absence is sure to elicit an outcry from Union fans that had hoped to see the US national team standout at PPL.
The Everton ’keeper also misses a chance to reconnect with some old friends, mainly Philadelphia Union defender and former national team player Danny Califf.
“Any time I get a chance to see him, it’s always good times,” Califf said. “I think he’s really come into his own over the past five, six years and really solidified his spot on the national team and with Everton as well. He’s one of the big reasons why they’re in the top six consistently in the Premier League.”
Union rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath hasn’t known Howard as long as Califf has but gotten a chance to spend every waking hour with him for a week last summer. MacMath, then at the University of Maryland, trained with Everton following an impressive performance at the Milk Cup with the US U-20 squad.
MacMath has made no secrets that he hopes to follow in Howard’s footsteps and become the next great goalkeeper for the senior national team.
“Of course I asked as many questions as I possibly could, so I could try to learn as much as possible,” said MacMath, who lived, ate and trained with Howard during that week-long stint. “Then, obviously, training was a lot of fun. Getting to work with him and serve him balls and see how he goes about his business on the field was a great experience. It was something I won’t forget.”
MacMath has yet to play in a league game for the Union but figures to see some time in Wednesday’s exhibition — although he won’t get a chance to take the same field as his mentor Howard.
Union manager Peter Nowak also said he was excited to see Howard, noting that he expected the US netminder to get a warm reception from the PPL Park crowd. But even though that won’t happen now, Nowak will surely see Howard again soon.
“Tim is a great, classy guy,” Nowak said. “Every time I’m in Europe or coming to London, we always connect. These are the kinds of relationships that speaks volumes of him.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.