Tim Howard's strong return positive sign for Rapids, US national team

HARRISON, N.J.—Tim Howard looked incredibly sharp for the Colorado Rapids in Saturday afternoon's 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, welcome news for not only his club, but also the US national team.

Howard’s strong performance after a nearly four-month layoff likely points to a call up to the US for the crucial World Cup qualifying matches against Honduras on March 24 and then at Panama four days later.

It was with the national team last November when Howard suffered a right adductor injury in a World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico, an injury that forced him to leave the field midway through the first half. He went on to miss the 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Championship, which the Rapids dropped to the Seattle Sounders, the eventual MLS Cup champions.

“Felt good.,” Howard said. “I’ve been training for awhile. I make sure that I check all the boxes in training to get to this point. There was no hesitation on my part. Felt good.”

Howard stood tall repeatedly in the first half, making three saves in the opening 13 minutes, part of an opening 45 minutes where he twice denied Bradley Wright-Phillips from close range. He surely wasn’t at fault in the 45th minute in which Red Bulls right back Sal Zizzo swung in a cross from the right flank that Rapids center back Eric Miller inadvertently knocked into his own goal.

In the 73rd minute Howard again did well, extending fully to parry away Wright-Phillips, pushing the Englishman’s powerful shot well wide. It was a theme from the get-go as, just moments into the game, Howard denied Wright-Phillips from close, showing no signs of rust.

“I prefer not to let Bradley-Wright in that type of scenario,” Howard said. “It was a good welcome back moment. I’m glad I made the save.”

In all facets, Howard looked comfortable and very much in midseason form. He controlled the area well, marshalling all the crosses that came in as well as coming off his line several times to deny potential opportunities for New York.

Another strong showing next weekend, and Howard could well see a return to the national team at a key moment in World Cup qualifying for head coach Bruce Arena’s squad.

“We’ll see. I feel like I want to be healthy, want to be playing well. I’ll wait and see,” Howard said.

“[I] still wait for the emails. Obviously that is a question for Bruce and hopefully I’ll do enough to get an opportunity if I’m healthy.”