10 Things: From MetroStars to Manchester to Merseyside, Tim Howard's legacy

He’s back.

Thirteen years and three World Cups after first leaving Major League Soccer for England, Tim Howard is returning to North America, with the longtime US national team goalkeeper set to make his 2016 MLS debut on Independence Day after signing a Designated Player contract with the Colorado Rapids earlier this year.

Boasting one of the most impressive careers in the history of American soccer, Howard comes to the Rapids after spending the past decade as the starter for the USMNT and English Premier League club Everton.

And while we know him for his heroics between the pipes – in particular that heroic performance against Belgium during the 2014 World Cup – there’s quite a few more layers to the 37-year-old’s story – both on and off the field.

Once a Metro

A New Jersey native, Howard’s career was launched close to home when the MetroStars (the precursor to the New York Red Bulls) signed the 19-year-old in 1998.

Howard spent a few years learning from former US international Tony Meola in New York, but he was stellar once he got his chance, winning the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award in his first year as a starter in 2001 and collecting Best XI honors in 2001 and 2002.

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The big switch

In what remains one of the highest-profile transfers in the history of the league, Howard left New York in the summer of 2003 for Manchester United for a then MLS-record fee of $4 million. The move raised eyebrows all over the world, with many surprised that Manchester United would spring for an American goalkeeper, and a relatively inexperienced one, at that.

The switch also almost never happened, as a tenuous UK work permit approval process and some tough negotiations threatened to stop the transfer in its tracks.

“In my case, Man U made an offer. A few days later, MLS made a counterproposal,” Howard wrote in his 2014 autobiography, The Keeper. “Negotiations got bogged down. Both sides had dug in and were holding firm. Dan made a suggestions. ‘What if you offer to make up the difference from the first year of your salary? Even doing that you’d still earn seven figures next year. And you’ll be at Man U.”

Howard made it happen, and arrived in Manchester ahead of the 2003 season.

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Rosy start with Red Devils

Howard quieted many of his doubters in his Manchester United debut in the 2003 Community Shield, a preseason showcase pitting the prior season’s English Premier League winners against the previous year’s FA Cup champions.

He received some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s famed “hair dryer treatment” at halftime of the match for not putting enough men in the wall on a Thierry Henry free-kick goal, but recovered in time for the penalty kick shootout, saving Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Robert Pires’ spot kicks to give United the win.

“The Man U fans jumped up and down all over that stadium,” Howard wrote in The Keeper. “They waved flags and twirled scarves in the air like lassos. In front of them stood Sir Alex Ferguson. He looked as if he had forgotten, by now, all about that three-man wall.”

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Problems in Porto

Howard’s first year with Manchester United went well … until it didn’t. He quickly became United’s starting ‘keeper and performed well in Premier League action, but a gaffe against Porto in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League cost United their spot in the competition and was the beginning of the end for Howard at the club.

His confidence shaken, Howard was sent to the bench before eventually reclaiming his starting spot near the end of the season. He’d eventually be named to the league’s Best XI for his performances in the 2003-04 season, but he’d never again be Man U’s full-time starter, sharing the job during the 2004-05 campaign before eventually heading to Everton on loan in the summer of 2006.

Living with Tourette's

While Howard’s early career was marked by his moves to different clubs, one constant was his work off the field to help raise awareness and help those with Tourette’s syndrome, which he was diagnosed with at age 12.

Howard’s symptoms began appearing when he was 10, when the youngster first experienced the twitches, compulsions and tics associated with the disorder.

“Each [tic] started the same way: with an uncomfortable sensation in some part of my body – a heightened awareness, an urge. The feeling could be relieved only by some specific motor action. I started blinking, for example – forceful, deliberate blinks that I couldn’t stop. I began to clear my throat over and over. Then there were facial jerks. Shoulder shrugs. Eye rolling.”

A champion of hope

He’s worked to raise awareness about what it’s like to live with Tourette’s throughout his career. He was first recognized for his work in 2001, when he was named MLS Humanitarian of the Year for his work with children with the disorder and was named to the New Jersey Tourette Syndrome Association Board of Directors.

Howard was further recognized for his efforts in October 2014, when the National Tourette Syndrome Association presented him with the first-ever Tourette Syndrome Association Champion of Hope award.

“I am flattered and humbled to receive this great honor as it has been a lifelong passion of mine to raise awareness for what it’s like living with Tourette syndrome,” Howard said of receiving the award. “I have the easiest job in the world to do this – I play a global sport that is broadcast to millions of people around the world, and there I am, coughing, ticcing and twitching. I get to do what I love and mix my two passions; playing soccer and educating others on TS.”

Blue Side of Merseyside

Howard’s first taste of the EPL didn’t quite go as well as planned, but he erased any disappointment about his time at Man U with a fabulous career at Everton. He was loaned from Manchester United to Everton ahead of the 2006 season, and immediately became the Toffees starter, a role he wouldn’t relinquish for nearly 10 years.

Consistently placing among the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, Howard made 415 appearances for Everton across all competitions. He occasionally served as captain during his time at the Liverpool club, for which he holds numerous records, including the all-time mark for shutouts in a single season.

Howard set a Premier League record for consecutive appearances with one club in 2012, when he played his 184th game in a row for Everton. He finished that streak in February 2013 with 210 straight league appearances, two shy of the Everton record held by legendary goalkeeper Neville Southall.

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Howard wears long sleeves on the field, but underneath the fabric are dozens of tattoos. In 2015, he signed up for PETA's Ink, Not Mink campaign and showed off his body art while supporting a good cause.

American hero

Howard is best known on these shores for his long, successful career with the US national team. Apart from a self-imposed hiatus from the national team following the 2014 World Cup, he’s been the first-choice goalkeeper for the USMNT for the better part of the last decade, taking the reins full-time from Kasey Keller following the 2006 World Cup. He’s backstopped the US at many major tournaments, including the 2007 and 2011 Gold Cups, the 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

Perhaps the finest individual moment of his career came at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when he turned in a heroic performance in the US’s Round of 16 defeat to Belgium. The Americans were largely outplayed in the match, but were kept alive by Howard, who made a World Cup-record 15 saves, more than a few of them spectacular, in the match.

Howard was lauded around the globe for his performance, and even received a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama. While it was a performance for the ages, it was still a defeat – and still a bit bitter for Howard.

“That’s a crazy stat. But bittersweet I suppose,” he said after the match. “You know, I don’t really keep count. It sucks that we lost. So that’s the overriding thing unfortunately.”

“I don’t know [if it was my best individual performance ever]. Maybe. It was of the spectacular variety but we lost, so I don’t know if it can be counted up there.”

10 Things: From MetroStars to Manchester to Merseyside, Tim Howard's legacy -

Homeward bound

Just before the 2014 World Cup, Howard signed a two-year extension at Everton, with the deal keeping him under contract at the club through the 2017-2018 season. Prior to Sunday’s announcement, Howard had been relatively steadfast that he planned on playing out his contract in England, and wouldn’t entertain a move back to MLS until after it ran out.

That, of course, all changed. The Rapids made Howard an offer he couldn’t refuse, making it the right time for the soccer legend to come home again.