EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As an up-and-coming goalkeeper from New Jersey, Tim Howard had lofty goals.
He watched Tony Meola, Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller and he not only wanted to be them, he wanted to be better than them.
That was, in part, his motivation.
“I desperately wanted to wear that shirt because they did,” Howard said. “I wanted to break their records. And I did.”
And Howard, who was honored before the US men’s national team’s international friendly against Mexico at MetLife Stadium Friday night, believes the man who has currently inherited the mantle of being the No. 1 goalkeeper for the USMNT has the potential to be just as good, if not better.
“I think the kid out there tonight will hopefully break mine,” Howard said of Zack Steffen. “And I think that's what I'm most excited to see."
Like Howard, Steffen has made the move from Major League Soccer to an English Premier League in Manchester — though Howard went directly to Manchester United from the MetroStars, while Steffen’s trip to Manchester City from Columbus Crew SC is via a loan spell with Fortuna Düsseldorf.
“I think he's gonna be great,” Howard said. “I hate to say that now, because it's putting a lot of pressure on him. And I always tell the story, you know that Kasey Keller told me you have to play 100 to 200 games to find out if a goalkeeper’s any good. A lot of pressure, a lot of pressure on Zack. I think he can handle it. Talent wise, he’s second to none.”
Howard, who was presented with a goalkeeping jersey with the No. 121 on it to represent his total caps — a USMNT record among goalkeepers — is also excited about watching this new generation of national team players.
Howard has fond memories of his teams, especially the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup squads he called “a roll your sleeves up and fight kind of team.”
“I’d go to war with them any day and I mean that truly,” he said.
As for the current generation, consider Howard impressed.
“We've got good, young players playing big minutes in MLS, big minutes abroad for big teams. So that is a big part of it,” Howard said. “The other big part of it is how they gel and they come together, right? Because we know they only have a couple days to do that. And it'll be a test of their character. … In terms of talent, we've got talent.”