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Monday, September 25, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: September 26, 10:28 PM UK
Howard: I'd like to return to MLS one day

Kristian Dyer

For Tim Howard, it has been an exciting start to the 2006 English Premier League season. On loan from Manchester United, Howard has helped propel Everton to a fast start. Although the season is still young, the Toffees are undefeated and are bidding for a spot in one of next season's European competitions.

As the odds-on favorite to be starting between the posts as the United States embarks on its quest to qualify for the World Cup in 2010, Howard will be a veteran on the national team. Although he was battling a cold during our conversation, Howard found time to update ESPNsoccernet on his exciting prospects at Everton and the strong start to the season.

ESPNsoccernet: Tim, thank you for joining us. You have just started your first season with Everton on a loan deal from Manchester United. How are things going in Merseyside?

T.H.: Good. Everything seems to be going well, no complaints, so far so good.

ESPNsoccernet: Although the season is in its infancy, there is an optimistic air about the club and your role with the team. Where do you see yourself with Everton, and is this a move you would fancy as being permanent?

T.H.: My role with the team will be the same as it always has been with any team that I am on. It is always my goal to be a steadying influence wherever I'm at. This doesn't change, no matter the setting.

With regards to the move to Everton being permanent, I don't know. I am focused on keeping up a good rhythm and good pace and presence, focused on the here and now. We're undefeated now through the early part of the season; I am just focused on doing what I need to do to keep it up.

ESPNsoccernet: When Edwin van der Sar was brought into the Manchester United squad last year, many saw the move as a statement about your performance ability. What did Sir Alex Ferguson say about the transfer, and how did it affect you?

T.H.: Well, I don't think it was a slight, though there obviously are naysayers. The most judgmental ones didn't have an insiders view. I don't think most people understand that the move to get Edwin was exactly what it was. He's a great goalkeeper, and I didn't take it personally. Nothing deeper than that. They brought him in to play, simply put. European football is very cutthroat, so much more than people realize.

Looking at it now, it wasn't the worst thing in the world for me because, at the moment, things are pretty good for me at Everton and we have a good club and coach. As for me, I'll just keep plugging away.

ESPNsoccernet: With the loan deal comes the opportunity to prove yourself yet again in top flight ball with a very solid EPL side, yet there is no denying that Everton is not in the same class as United. How has the transition been thus far, and what have you had to learn so as to acclimate yourself with the team?

T.H.: Actually, it has been very good and pretty easy for me. I don't get too worked up over things. The biggest thing for me was to go in, keep my head down and do what I do to make this club better. This is what drives me. For sure, it is a smaller club when compared to Manchester United, but Everton is not a small club. Our team and coach are very ambitious.

ESPNsoccernet: You were the surprise transfer from MLS to England in 2003 who seemingly stepped into the starter's role immediately. Do you think fans, both stateside and in England, were spoiled by your early success and that expectations were unreasonably high?

T.H.: Perhaps, initially, they were probably spoiled with my good start, but through it all, I knew there would be a learning curve and there would be ups and downs. I understood that there would be a time of learning; that you just don't step in and maintain an incredible level of play in a league like this on a team like Manchester United. There is no way that, at 24, that I don't go to Manchester United and not learn and develop. Four years later, I am a much better keeper than when I first made the move.

ESPNsoccernet: We always hear the term "athletic" associated with Tim Howard, but what components of your game have changed since the transfer to the EPL?

T.H.: First, I never stopped being athletic! I believe it is still my best attribute. But, I now see the game much better and my ability to read the game has improved. In Europe and the international level, it is so much faster. I have learned to see the game better, to anticipate and understand the flow. This includes how I direct my team to make sure my angles and decisions are correct -- the little things that win games. It comes through experience. That's what I have been getting better at and improving.

ESPNsoccernet: Shifting gears, you're the poster boy of MLS success, a player who paid his dues at a very young age to become a success with both club and country. What did your time in MLS teach you, and do you feel you made the right move by starting in MLS, or in hindsight, would you have preferred a straight move to Europe?

T.H.: The path that I took was great -- it is not everyone's recipe for success, but for me it was the right way to go through MLS. Being able to get into MLS at 17, I had to become an adult. It taught me how to be a professional. Out there on the field, playing with men. This is what MLS taught me.

What I got from my time in MLS was really working hard, shutting my mouth, keeping my head down and learning how to become successful. I had to fend for myself, you're out there on your own and you have to step up to the challenge. Playing with older and better players, personally, it was a great path for me to take. Going to Europe at an earlier age, I don't know, it's too tough to say at this point.

ESPNsoccernet>: Your opportunity to play both in MLS and in England has let you play against varying levels and talents both domestically and in international competition. How does the league and American soccer stack up against what you have seen and experienced?

T.H.: Well, MLS -- it's a very good level, no doubt about that. It is often compared in a negative light to other leagues, but that is unfair to what the league is and what it offers. The talent level and pool in Europe is so much deeper that MLS really can't compare. In the United States, you have a lot of very good players, but there aren't enough for teams to be stacked, unlike in England, where everyone is an international and a star. There is parity in MLS, it is certainly a good league and a very good experience.

ESPNsoccernet: "Don't Tread on Me" was the slogan of the ill-fated national team's journey in the World Cup. Why did the United States do so poorly, especially in light of the 2002 result?

T.H.: We didn't perform [Pause].

Simply, it was three games where we didn't perform, and these came back to back to back. It's unfortunate. You get to the World Cup, the highest level in the world, and it happens sometimes. If I had to pinpoint a reason, perhaps it is due to the international competition that our national team face; we don't always get the best friendlies for preparation. The teams we tend to get are pushovers and don't always sharpen us; they're not as good as what we need to face.

However, I want to set the record straight: There was no upheaval in the camp or among the team or with the coaches. Bruce Arena and the coaches did a good job prepping us for the games; we were ready. There was no talking bad about players or coaches that I saw or ever heard. There was no backstabbing among the group. The morale of the team was good. It just came down to performance. Perhaps I am not the best voice to say that it was about performance because I wasn't on the field, but that is what I saw and experienced.

It'd be easy if there was something wrong or pinpoint as the reason for the first-round exit, but there isn't one.

ESPNsoccernet: After the World Cup, Bruce Arena roundly bashed MLS as having regressed and having hurt the national team. Having played in the league and now in Europe, what is your take on these comments; do you concur with Arena's assessment?

T.H.: Those were Bruce's opinions and words. I don't have a concrete answer for the how or why. It is not like the MLS players who didn't perform well did so because they play in MLS. I don't have the answers. As a whole team, we got into the World Cup, and that is an accomplishment.

It just seems to be, that, as a team, we need to prepare better. We have to put ourselves into more hostile environments so that we can respond better.

ESPNsoccernet: Was there any point in the World Cup that you sensed the team had lost confidence in Arena or the coaching staff?

T.H.: No, not at all. We were prepared, and this was because of Bruce Arena and the coaches. It wasn't anything that they said or did or didn't do. No one was bashing players. To that extent, it didn't happen. We didn't lose confidence. What happened is that we didn't show up, we didn't put it out on the field. I can't emphasize enough that our morale was good throughout.

ESPNsoccernet: In 2002, you were an alternate on the squad due to Arena's surprising move to include Tony Meola as the third-choice goalkeeper on the team over you. How did you handle that decision? Did Bruce ever talk to you about his choice?

T.H.: If we spoke about it any point, it wasn't at length and wasn't memorable. It was something that, at the time, he felt he needed to do. Certainly, I was disappointed with his decision. Your best three keepers should go. I feel that wasn't the case based on the decision that was made, but I don't make the decisions. It didn't change me or what I had to do. I wouldn't let it.

ESPNsoccernet: With 2010 insight, you are considered the odds-on favorite to be the men's national team keeper for the next four years. Now that the mantle has, for all intents and purposes, been passed to you, how does that responsibility feel? Will it change anything about you, how you prepare?

T.H.: I don't have any divine right to be the U.S. goalkeeper. I am a competitor on the field, always have been. I earn the right to compete and play, and I'll continue to do this. You show up to work every day to earn the right to play.

The problem with certain teams is that players feel they don't have to go out there and earn the right to play. I don't buy into that.

For me though, nothing changes. The games I play in England and for my team, I bust my tail so that I can earn the right to play next week.

ESPNsoccernet: Bookmaking is all the rage in England, so play along with ESPNsoccernet for a minute. If you had to handicap an individual to be the next coach of the national team, who would you declare as your favorite and why?

T.H.: [Laughs]. I am just as interested in this as everyone else, maybe even more than everyone else! The odds-on favorite at one time was Juergen Klinsmann. I don't know if he still is now. Bob Bradley and Sigi Schmid have the credentials, they have to be considered. They're both good coaches. I have played for them both, and they bring a lot to the table. Tremendous candidates if given the opportunity, and they'd represent us well.

Juergen Klinsmann showed his worth in the last World Cup. He is an excellent choice.

It is an interesting question, I am as curious as anyone else to see how it pans out.

ESPNsoccernet: Tim, you have experienced both the highs and lows of being a professional athlete. What has grounded you through the times of transition and triumph?

T.H.: For me, my faith in the Lord is vitally important. The joy I have in my life doesn't come from football, the winning and the losing. I have an amazing family; that's where I get my joy from. We share an amazing faith together.

I try to be humble, especially when I am on the field. I don't always get it right, but I try. Consistency is the key. You have to earn the right to play and be successful, but I always give my best all the time, no matter the circumstances. I won't change my approach based on circumstances.

ESPNsoccernet: Personally, you have earned a reputation as a humanitarian and someone who uses his star appeal for the betterment of society.. In your opinion, do professional athletes do enough with their fortune and appeal? Why is giving back to the community as important to you as it is?

T.H.: It is tough to judge others in that sense, with regards to giving back. Athletes do have a responsibility to act a certain way because of their status. It is important for me to give back because I come from a background where my family didn't have a lot and I can understand and appreciate the value of what giving back means.

I hope to give back more than I've taken. This is important to me, and it's a goal of mine that fuels me. It is a personal thing, but I can't say what any other player should do just because he is an athlete.

ESPNsoccernet: You seem to be very vocal about your faith and personal convictions and have sometimes been criticized about it. Why do you choose to freely express this about yourself?

T.H.: The Bible tells us to profess our faith. It's a joyous thing, something to be shared. For me, I don't want it in the background of my life, but I certainly don't want it to be "in your face," either. I just want to be open about it, but I don't want to cross that line of good taste.

ESPNsoccernet: The club that you made your name with, the MetroStars, no longer exists, as it was bought out by the Red Bull corporation earlier this year. What are your thoughts on the New York Red Bulls, and would you consider a return to MLS at any point in your career?

T.H.: First, there is no question that at some point, I would like to return. Who knows, there may be a situation where I don't return to MLS and the team, but I don't rule it out. MLS is a good league with a good standard of play and a very competitive place to ply my trade. I'd like to return.

About Red Bull, hopefully our history books from the MetroStars are somewhere in the archive in the library somewhere ... I think that if something like this happens and the league agrees to it, it has to be something good for the league. Don Garber and Ivan Gazidis must feel it is a good thing for anyone involved, so I'll agree with them.

ESPNsoccernet: As an American playing in the most prestigious league in the world, you have endured your fair share of criticism. Do you sense any bias against you as an American because this nation has an overall apathetic view of soccer? Do you feel that you being from the United States has hindered your career?

T.H.: No, not at all. Nothing like that, ever.

ESPNsoccernet: With 2006 winding down, what goals has Tim Howard established for himself for 2007? What do we have to look forward to?

T.H.: I think I have a lot of goals. Immediately, my most pressing goal is to help Everton climb up the table. We're a good team and can do a lot this year with the players we have.

Certainly, with the national team, we don't have a lot coming up on our schedule in the near future, but my goal is to get this team back in gear. There is no doubt we sputtered a bit over the past few months, but hopefully we get things back in gear.

Kristian R. Dyer is a freelance writer who covers U.S. Soccer and MLS for ESPNsoccernet and is the soccer editor for New York City Sporting News. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com.




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