Just 12 months ago, popular opinion surrounding the U.S. National Team said there were three world-class goalkeepers at the disposal of coach Bruce Arena: Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller.
Fast forward to the present, and suddenly Keller has established himself as the sole U.S. No. 1 'keeper. Friedel, who starred for the Americans at the 2002 World Cup, retired from international soccer, while Howard had an up-and-down season for his club team, England's Manchester United.
For now, that's OK with Howard. Keller has produced a string of outstanding performances in World Cup Qualifiers to solidify his standing, but Howard doesn't think the competition for the No. 1 jersey is over yet.
"There were three No. 1's at one point," says Howard. "One retires and all of the sudden we have an out-and-out No. 1. It just hasn't worked out (for me), but time will tell.
"It's a good competition. I think in the end the best goalkeeper will win."
The Manchester United man was recently in Salt Lake City to lead a free soccer clinic for children, which was courtesy of MasterCard and GE's Corporate Payment Services' unit. The event featured 20 specially-chosen students from Mountain View Elementary, as well as another 40 children selected by GE's Corporate Payment Services' division.
"I've gotten more than I'll ever need out of the game of soccer, and for me, it's a joy to give back," Howard says.
The American was out of the U.S. lineup during its recent round of qualifiers because of a nagging injury to both his shoulders. Howard described it as the "wear and tear" of playing so much during the past two seasons, and this summer will be one of his first chances to rest since making the biggest transfer in Major League Soccer history.
It's been a whirlwind of sorts for the American during the last two years. In the summer of 2003, he made the enormous leap from the MLS to the English Premiership.
Having played for the Metrostars, Howard moved to arguably the biggest sports team in the world — Manchester United. To the surprise of many, he was an immediate success. Howard was named to the English Premiership Best XI after his inaugural season, though he struggled to maintain that form during his second year with the club, which recently concluded.
After making a pair of costly errors last September, he was benched and struggled to regain his place in the side. Manchester United recently brought in veteran goalkeeper Edwin van Der Sar, who will compete with Howard for the No. 1 jersey.
"The biggest goalkeeper I need to battle is myself," says Howard. The player I was in America is a lot different than the player I need to be in the Premiership because that league is obviously dynamic. . . All the pieces are in place, and it's my time to make sure they're all there."
For Howard, the shock of playing alongside stars like Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Paul Scholes, among others, has dissipated.
"Every now and again I step back," says Howard. "It's funny (because) now I'm just one of those guys — not in a world-class status, but in the locker room I'm just one of the guys."
At Manchester United, Howard has played under legendary coach Alex Ferguson, who has won 24 total trophies for United, including eight English Premiership titles, four FA Cups, and one Champions League final.
"The thing about Sir Alex Ferguson is that he's a gentleman in every sense of the word," Howard says about his coach, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II after winning the Premiership, FA Cup, and Champions League all in 1999. "He's portrayed sometimes by the English media in a negative light, but all of his energy is focused on one thing--making the club successful. He bleeds for that club."