COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Everything is coming full circle for Tim Howard.
It’s been 16 weeks since the Colorado Rapids’ goalkeeper suffered a season-ending injury in the first half of the US men’s national team’s World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico – a fracture of the right adductor longus, located in the upper groin. The injury required offseason surgery and prompted the longest recovery time of Howard’s two decades of professional soccer.
But he’s returned to training over the past two weeks with Colorado, and gave reporters a positive assessment on his injury status on Tuesday.
“I feel good,” said Howard. “I feel like I’m close. [This week] marks 16 weeks, so I’m going to close that chapter hopefully. I’m excited to keep pushing forward.
“I’ve had a couple injuries that have kept me out for four weeks or so. This is four months, so it’s been the biggest one. I have a good team around me, so that gives me confidence.”
The injury came as a shock to both Rapids fans and those of the USMNT, but not Howard, who had been experiencing pain in the region following Colorado’s Western Conference Semifinal victory over the LA Galaxy just ahead of the Mexico match.
“I was quite sore the rest of the week,” Howard recalled. “But it’s USA-Mexico. You’ve got to go.”
Neither Howard nor the team’s coaching staff would give a definitive answer on whether Howard will make a return to game action this weekend when Colorado faces the New York Red Bulls (4 pm ET; UniMas in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada), but they weren’t ruling out the possibility, either.
“He had a session on Sunday with [Rapids goalkeeping coach] Chris Sharpe and some of the guys and they mimicked a 90-minute performance out on the field,” said Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni. “He got through that pretty well and did some long kicking, so he’s in a good spot right now.”
Added Mastroeni: “We’re having a conversation later on today to see where he’s at. He’s been training a good 10 days of training, two-weeks nonstop. I think once he feels 100 percent good about his body, that’s the most important thing.”
If he gets back onto the field, Howard could conceivably make a return to the US later this month, when the team will resume the Hexagonal against Honduras at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium on March 24 before playing at Panama on March 28.
The competition for the USMNT’s No. 1 goalkeeping spot is still up for grabs, but Howard isn’t deterred.
“Competition has never been an issue for me,” He said. “I have a focus that transcends that competition. I’m solely focused on myself and my performances. Since when I was first called up in 2002 by Bruce [Arena] there has been competition. It’s not something that overwhelms me.”
Before then, he’d like to get some games under his belt with Colorado. But whether or not he plays for the Rapids on Saturday or Zac MacMath gets his second start of the campaign, the match will mark a homecoming for the 38-year-old Howard, who was born and raised in New Jersey and got his career started with the MetroStars, who re-branded to the Red Bulls in 2006.
“I think the MLS has come a long way since I left in 2003,” Howard said of his return. “The team that I played for doesn’t exist anymore, it’s a different franchise. It’s great to see. For me, Red Bull Arena in and of itself is quite amazing, because I was there in the days that they were trying to buy that land and it kept getting off track. For it to actually happen is impressive.
“I’ve played there for the national team and it’s a tough crowd. We’ll have it all to do on us, that’s for sure.”