Salute to the Secretary of Defense: Tim Howard's top 10 career moments

Tim Howard announced on Tuesday that the 2019 Major League Soccer season will be his last as a pro, sparking an instant state of nostalgia from sea to shining sea and across the pond in England. 

Like the Little River Band, we're not immune to such reminiscing, so you probably know what's coming. That's right, it's a list of the most memorable episodes from the star Colorado Rapids goalkeeper’s career for club and country.

Some were stunning performances, some were major achievements, some were both at once, but all of them helped to build the legend of one of the great American ‘keepers of all time.

No. 10: Playoff shootout heroics

You hear it so often from goalkeepers in every sport that it's become cliche: one of the hardest things for a 'keeper to do is come up with big saves after having little to do the entire game. In the deciding home leg of the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals, the LA Galaxy barely troubled Howard through the regulation 90 minutes and a half-hour of extra time.

The Rapids had pulled the tie level on aggregate thanks to a wicked Shkelzen Gashi golazo and were counting on their veteran 'keeper to come up big in the climactic shootout. Howard did not disappoint, stopping Ashley Cole and Jeff Larentowicz (who at the time, held a perfect 11-for-11 PK record) to lead Colorado to their first Conference Championship in six years.

No. 9: Hello, Merseyside derby!

By the time he left Everton, Howard had taken part in 21 high-intensity local derbies against Liverpool. His first, way back in September of 2006, may have been as memorable as any of them. The star-studded Reds (who would go on to reach the 2007 Champions League final) crossed Stanley Park to invade Goodison Park having dominated the Merseyside grudge match for years.

Scant seconds into the game, Howard started the day off right by denying Robbie Fowler, and his long boots led to first-half strikes by Tim Cahill and fellow Toffees new boy Andy Johnson. Howard made four saves, including big stops on Luis Garcia and Dirk Kuyt, to preserve the lead and Johnson added on late to complete a famous 3-0 victory over Everton's archenemies.

No. 8: A Europa League master class

After a five-year absence from UEFA cup play, Howard and Everton were back in the Europa League in 2014. Their first game back in the continental big time was a group phase opener against visiting Wolfsburg, a club loaded with talent that would eventually finish as Bundesliga runners-up. 

Tim Howard at Everton, 2014 | Reuters

Steven Naismith scored to put the Toffees ahead on 15 minutes and the American took it from there, tying the Europa League record for saves in a game by turning away a dozen Wolves shots. Before Everton ran away from their guests to post a 4-1 win, Howard made monster stops on Kevin De Bruyne and Ricardo Rodriguez to stem any thoughts of a rally.

Unfortunately, the latter spoiled the shutout with a picturesque free kick deep into stoppage time, but it couldn't stop the home GK from garnering Man of the Match honors. 

No. 7: The Gunner stunner

To put it mildly, Arsenal were not one of Howard's favorite EPL opponents. He only beat them three times in 23 league and cup tries, but the matchup wasn't always so dour. He logged a clean sheet draw in his only Manchester United start against the Gunners, and then helped new employers Everton take the 2006/07 season series.

After helping the Toffees earn an impressive Highbury draw near midseason, Howard put on a terrific display in the series-clinching victory. He rang up seven saves, including larceny jobs on Jeremie Aliadiere and Cesc Fabregas, to keep the game scoreless until Andy Johnson could conjure the last-minute winner.

No. 6: A magic spell on the Wizards

Howard enjoyed plenty of fine outings as a member of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, but quite arguably none was finer than his midseason 1-0 shutout triumph away to eventual 2000 MLS Cup/Supporters' Shield double winners Kansas City. Then known as the Wizards, they came into the contest with an 8-0-1 record and a 720-minute shutout streak at home. 

Obviously, Howard's margin for error was slim as could be. Standing in for injured starter Mike Ammann, the No. 18 shirt repeatedly stood on his head in 100-degree heat to chalk up seven saves, setting the stage for a late winner by Clint Mathis.

No. 5: Red Devils revenge

There aren't a great many things sweeter than showing up your old employers on the big stage, which is precisely what Howard did to Manchester United in the 2009 FA Cup semifinals. When the game kicked off, the Red Devils were still chasing an unprecedented quintuple (they would go on to claim the EPL crown, League Cup and World Club Cup, but lose the Champions League final).

Howard & co. were the first to knock them out of contention for a title, ensuring they'd not go home with the FA Cup. The American made a few good stops to keep the game scoreless through 120 minutes, but his best highlights were still to come. In the first two shootout rounds, he reached behind his dive to kick away Dimitar Berbatov's cheeky attempt and then sprawled to paw away the ensuing Rio Ferdinand try as Everton cruised to the final with a 4-2 penalty kicks triumph.

No. 4: The outlet pass

We've reached the one item on this list that doesn't solely revolve around Howard's actual goalkeeping, and no, we're not going to talk about his lone career goal, scored against Bolton back in 2012. Picture the scene: the US men's national team are scoreless with Algeria in stoppage time, a mere moment away from being knocked out in the 2010 World Cup group stage. 

Howard stands up to a Rafik Saifi header, and without the slightest hint of hesitation, unleashes a long throw to send Landon Donovan running free into the Algeria end. Donovan leads Jozy Altidore into the box and he in turn centers for Clint Dempsey, who is stopped on the doorstep. The rebound lays out perfectly for Donovan to slam home an unforgettable winner. Bada-bing, bada-boom, on to the knockouts. 

No. 3: The monster upset

The USMNT rose from the group-stage dead to reach the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal. Their reward? A matchup with rampant world champs Spain, who hadn't been beaten in 35 games and hadn't been shut out in 25. 

Howard's six saves (including a diving stunner to rob David Villa while it was a one-goal game) helped the Americans pull off one of the great shocks in world soccer in recent memory to reach their first FIFA final.

No. 2: Making FA Cup history

It certainly wasn't the busiest of outings or the mightiest of foes, but Howard did become the first American to raise the FA Cup by helping Manchester United see off Millwall in the final at Wembley. 

Howard with Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson | Reuters

The second-division underdogs rarely threatened, but the USMNT star did well to pluck a doorstep cross right off the brow of future Toffees teammate Tim Cahill to protect a 1-0 lead late in the first half. 

No. 1: A World Cup record in defeat

What else could it be, right? Howard set a new World Cup standard by making 15 saves in their extra-time round-of-16 loss to Belgium in 2014, launching a thousand memes in the process. Not only did he deny curlers, tip tricky headers over the bar and dazzle with an array of kick saves, he expertly controlled all the rebounds. 

Alas, Kevin De Bruyne and then-Everton teammate Romelu Lukaku finally broke his spell in extras and a late US rally fell agonizingly short, robbing Howard of the chance to add to his heroics in a penalty shootout. 


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