STOKE-ON-TRENT — Tim Howard‘s time in the Premier League and at Everton is almost up.
Howard, 37, will leave Everton this summer to return to Major League Soccer after agreeing a contract with the Colorado Rapids beginning on July 1.
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After spending 13 years in England with Manchester United and Everton — Howard joined the Toffees in 2006 — he’s seen the perception of American players in England change.
Standing pitch-side as part of NBC Sports’ broadcast team for Tottenham’s 4-0 win over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Monday, Howard looks relaxed and is all smiles as he talks about the growing respect for the game he loves back in the U.S.
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But as he enters his final few weeks in England, are players from the U.S. national team finally getting the respect they deserve in England?
“I think so, we’ve had a few players come over and have success but it is still tough,” Howard said. “It is still an uphill battle for an American player to come over and really gain respect in a European league but slowly but surely we will keep making progress.”
With Howard leaving the PL and his fellow USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan relegated to the second-tier with Aston Villa, for the first time in decades it seems highly likely there won’t be a U.S. goalkeeper in the PL. Before Howard and Guzan you had Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller flying the flag but to date only three full USMNT internationals — Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Miazga — will be in England’s top-flight next season. Even Yedlin and Miazga’s status as PL players next season seems in doubt.
The days of Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and Howard as mainstays in the PL are over. A new era for Americans in England has arrived.
Is Howard feeling emotional about leaving Everton and returning to his homeland?
“Everton is my home but all good things come to an end,” Howard said, nodding his head. “I am someone who has the ability to, thankfully, be grateful for my experiences and move on. That’s life. Everton will always be my home.”
With an FA Cup semifinal coming up this weekend against Man United at Wembley and five more PL games, Howard is likely to get one final swansong in goal for Roberto Martinez’s men. After that, it will be a busy few months for the New Jersey native.
After the PL concludes on May 15 he will then, presumably, head back to the U.S. to be part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad for the 2016 Copa America Centenario and after that tournament he will get to Colorado and begin a new chapter, the final one, in his distinguished playing career.
“It is one thing after another,” laughed Howard. “I finish here, then go to training camp with the national team and obviously we have a huge tournament which is important for us. When that finishes I will go out to Denver and start life.”
Howard’s life, at least in popular U.S. culture, is likely to be defined by his stunning display against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup Round of 16 defeat in extra time. After recording a record 15 saves in a single World Cup game, Howard’s stature as the most well-known current USMNT player was cemented.
It is likely the USMNT will need similar heroics from Howard this summer as Klinsmann’s side were drawn in Group A of the expanded Copa America tournament, alongside Paraguay, Colombia and Costa Rica.
“Any time you come to a major tournament like this, we know who is in front of us. We have those three games and we feel like it is a tough group but our team is resilient,” Howard explained. “We showed that in the World Cup. When it comes to major tournaments we know how to navigate through the group so we will try to get ourselves out of a very tough group and then we don’t know who are next opponent is. We will just keep moving forward. The one thing about the U.S. team is that when the bell rings, you put someone out in front of us and we go out and do it.”
With Howard set to leave behind cold, windy nights at Stoke for life back in MLS, we joked about the snowy conditions out in Colorado last weekend as his new team recorded a 2-1 win over New York Red Bulls and continued their hot start to the season. He is excited about the fresh challenge awaiting him.
A lot has changed in MLS since Howard left in 2003.
“I think the quality of play has gotten better. The fanbase has grown and is more knowledgeable,” Howard said. “Some of the players that have gone back over, this ain’t a retirement league. Now you have players going over like [Sebastian] Giovinco, he is incredible. Giovani dos Santos, probably one of the top Mexican players of all time who is playing there in his prime. That’s exciting because for me, when I was a 21-year-old in MLS, that wasn’t the case.”
Howard believes bringing players over in their prime and especially targeting the top U.S. talent in Europe is the way forward for MLS.
“Yeah, continue to bring guys home,” Howard said. “The top U.S. players and the top international players. That is making the league better, for sure.”
Howard’s arrival back in MLS will be a banner moment for North America’s top-flight. But after plying his trade in the Premier League for over a decade, he will be missed in England.
Even though U.S. players in Europe have a long way to go to gain more respect, without Howard’s performances and presence they’d be much further behind.