When We Were Metrostars - Part 4 - Tim Howard: The Man Who Would Become King

I did not recognize the tall gentleman with a beard of biblical proportions making a request at the desk at my current job. Bald with gleaming eyes and covered with a plethora of cool tattoos, he was very cordial. Why did I not realize that it was Tim Howard who was before me? You might think I contradict myself when I tell you that Tim Howard was my favorite player when he played for the Metrostars in 2000. It’s simple really. I remembered Tim as the young, clean shaven, no tats goalie with reflexes bordering on bionic. He was not the number one in goal at the time but every time I saw him play it was apparent Tim's future was unlimited. It seemed like it was just yesterday, not twenty-three years ago.

This New Jersey native out of New Brunswick joined the team two years before coming up from the USISL's North Jersey Imperials. When he became an MLS Project-40 signee, he was assigned to the hometown club at America's top-level backing up Tony Meola first and then Mike Amman for two seasons. At age 22, he was the league's youngest Goalkeeper of the Year. As the back up, Howard would gain the secondary assignments whether choice friendlies or tournaments like the U.S Open Cup, which saw him win three games taking the Metros to the semi-finals. Not an easy task as the inter-season cups were usually where the second team played for the most part, far from full strength. Howard, with his limited experience, would carry the team during these contests that were not on the top of the list of importance generally.

Tim Howard was the future of New York soccer or so it seemed. However it would become a case of "we hardly knew you." So quick the time went when he manned the goal at Giants Stadium. Maybe it was the irony of seeing him that day. I had just started reading his autobiography "The Keeper" when I was made aware that he stored with us. In 2000, Howard was one the pieces that contributed to the success of the MetroStars in 2000. Don't believe it? I have a MetroStars lunchbox with the big four and Howard is prominently placed as one of them. His hero origin story had to be when he took over for an injured Ammon, no thanks to Mamadou Diallo. The Metros were 8-7-1. The opponent was San Jose. No one scored. Howard made sure of with his first shutout. Two big wins later over Tampa Bay and Dallas led to the game that told us all the MetroStars were championship ready.

It took place in Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Western leaders The Kansas City Wizards. In goal opposite Howard ironically would be former teammate Tony Meola. They would send a message that they would have to be contended with in the end. The learner had become the master. The 1-0 victory was a testament to Howard. The rapid reflexes and command of the box reminded me of a film I watched recently starring Gerard Butler as the goaltender Frank Borghi in the film "The Game of Their Lives" about the 1950 U.S. World Cup team that went to Brazil and upset England. The difference was Howard is taller, quicker and much more athletic but you get the idea. Howard would refer to a similar game which he called “The Game of Their Lives” when he would be in goal for the United States in 2014 in Brazil. Why the comparison? Both men were the last line of defense on teams that the world did not expect to accomplish what they did.

Though Tim played in only nine contests that year in total, Tim showed he was indispensable and most likely should have been installed as the number one going forward. Ultimately this was the case. The problem was Manchester United noticed and plucked him from us in the traditional game of soccer have-nots securing funding by trading away top young prospects to soccer powers with financial might. One must remember once again that MLS was in its formative years and money was the bottom line for league survival.

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