Of all that was said about Tim Howard’s performance against Belgium, “best ever” pretty much sums it up.
In his 104th cap, Howard single-handedly kept the USMNT in the match until the end of their memorable 2-1 loss with a World-Cup record 16 saves. It’s the most in the tournament since 1966, when they started keeping records.
“That's my job,” Howard said in the match’s immediate aftermath. “That's what I signed up to do. It's part of it. In these big games against top quality competition the levee is going to break at some point if we continue that. Hats off to Belgium they were fantastic. Oddly enough when you're in the game you really don’t think about that. You kind of fix the problem and you think you can do it.”
The most recorded saves previous to Howard was 13 and came in 1978, by Peru’s Ramon Quiroga.
The withering onslaught by the Belgium attack was also one for the record books; their 38 shots is tied for fourth most since 1966 and the most since 1974. The Red Devils’ 27 shots on goal is tied for second most since 1996, three less than Yugoslavia’s most against Zaire in 1974.
“Belgium are a good team with a lot of good players but so are we,” Howard said. “Games like this are never easy to digest after. Everybody put so much into it. It's disappointing to go out this way. But we need to be honest with ourselves and know that there's still work ahead of us and we have to keep getting better and keep working. And if we do that then we're just going to keep moving ourselves along.”
Howard had 11 saves at the end of regulation after, turning away wave after wave of Belgium attacks. But in extra time, he finally showed to be human, allowing in the first on a Kevin De Bruyne goal just three minutes in and then again in the 105th minute on a Romelu Lukaku strike.
“I think it's heartbreaking,” Howard said. “I don't think we could've given anymore. We played a great game of football. We left it all out there and we got beat by a really good team. They took their chances well. It's heartache. It hurts.”
Needless to say, praise for Howard came from all sides.
“Always keeps us in it,” US captain Michael Bradley said after the match. “Such a good player, such a good leader and so we rely on him so heavily.”
And he predictably gained his fair share of fame on social media. Here are just a few from his Twitter-dominating performance:
Tim Howard for president pic.twitter.com/9JqpmTZOcy— McLovin (@tbhmclovin) July 1, 2014
Tim Howard Tonight. pic.twitter.com/bw83HM7lFn— Troll Football (@Troll__Football) July 1, 2014