Tuesday night multiple media outlets reported that the Rapids were close to a deal for Everton and USMNT goal keeper Tim Howard to join the team in May. Although it may not be what we expected from our off-season, here are some first thoughts on the potential acquisition.
Tuesday night multiple media outlets reported that the Rapids were close to a deal for Everton and USMNT goal keeper Tim Howard.
Tim Howard's credentials as a world-class goal keeper are impeccable. Howard has the most international caps for the US National team at goalkeeper, with 106. After starting his career with the New York/New Jersey Metrostars, he was transferred to Manchester United in 2003 for $4 million, a record deal at the time. He was loaned and eventually transferred to Everton in 2006, where he has started between the pipes ever since. His wikipedia page was edited after his unbelievable, stand-on-his-head performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup to call him the USA's 'Secretary of Defense'. #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave trended in the tens of thousands on twitter.
As a soccer decision, I and most other soccer pundits are less than enthralled. The Rapids finished 2015 last in MLS in goals scored, with 33. Adding a goalkeeper doesn't address that problem, and soaks up a lot of the allocation money it would take to get an attacking talent or a pure scorer. So this move likely doesn't get them to the playoffs. I've already written about my reservations with adding Howard, so if you'd like the critical, pessimistic rabbi take, go here. I did that already.
But on the other hand, I see a bunch of good things about this. Here's three.
1) It's still a good soccer move
As a soccer move, it could still make this team much better, as well as have a larger effect on the team than most other positions on the field. Dan Altman, head of North Yard Analytics, spoke about the undervaluing of goal keepers on Sports Illustrated's ‘Planet Football' pod, and expressed the data-driven opinion that goal keepers both give the most bang for the buck, and have an out-sized influence on the game above other positions. Moreover, he stated that the speed and quality of English Premier League shot-making is at such a ridiculously high level above MLS, that a good goalkeeper there is head-and-shoulders above any goal keeper in the US, or anywhere, really. Altman quoted a fellow stat head as saying that a good goalkeeper could be worth 10 points in the league table.
The Rapids may be one of the first teams to serve as a perfect laboratory for such an experiment. With the exception of Marco Pappa and whoever plays left back, the Rapids are poised right now to roll out the same lineup as last year. If they end the 2016 season on 47 points instead of 37, as they had in 2015, one might make a comfortable argument that Tim Howard is, indeed, worth 10 points in the table. In terms of using your money most wisely, AKA the ‘moneyball' effect, it might be the way to go.
2) It could be an amazing marketing move
For the Rapids to get a top-class goal keeper like Howard; a famous player; a player that the mayor and the governor and Peyton Manning and local TV will want to show up and meet, it's great marketing move. And it will draw more casual fans to DSGP. The Flakoglost podcast has been doing an excellent series on the Rapids, and much of the hand-ringing from burgundy diehards is over poor attendance and an overabundance of casual fans. As you probably know, the 2014 World Cup was a watershed event in American soccer history, from a popularity perspective. A record 21.6 million viewers tuned in to watch ‘The Tim Howard Show' as Timmy stopped a record 15(!) shots against Belgium. An Eden Hazard-Romelu Lukaku Belgium.
Additionally, around 500,000 people nationwide tune into the EPL on NBC each Saturday morning, and that number is growing particularly among the coveted 18-49 demographic. Denver is consistently in the top 10 of US TV markets for EPL games.
The Rapids are making the bet that Tim Howard can convert EPL fans to MLS fans. Is that going to work? I don't know. But I have to commend the front office for trying, since we at Burgundy Wave have criticized them consistently for not doing enough to bring winning soccer to Colorado. It's a bonafide USMNT star right here in Commerce City. Granted, he's probably on he's downside of his career, but this kind of buy places the Rapids in a different strata of MLS teams, joining clubs like Orlando City, the LA Galaxy, and NYCFC, that fans want to go see partially to see a world-class player do Beckham/Kaka/Pirlo type things.
There is always some consternation about the divide between casual fans and diehard supporters; between drawing one-off families attending a game on a ‘four-pack' vs. a screaming cauldron of berserkers, six beers in and howling obscenities at the away section. But it's a process. You've probably read me say this before, but good soccer will convert the masses from casual to die hard if you do it right, and do it for long enough. I was a casual fan once. You probably were too. Tim Howard is one more brick, and I'd argue a large brick, in building a fortress at DSGP. Sell out the stadium first. Then, get those quiet folks in sections 119 to 135 back a few times to sing 'Oh Coloraaaaaah-do's Wonderfuuuuuuuul...'
3) It shows commitment from the FO for the first time in, forever?
Fans have been slagging the FO for showing no commitment. Suspicions have been raised consistently that Stan Kroenke's plan all along has been to a) use the Rapids as a cover for a cheap-land deal in north Denver, and develop or flip that real estate once he sabotages the team enough to get them to move out of town, or b) invest zero dollars in the team, watch attendance plummet, then earn a sweetheart deal with another, more profitable city to move the club there. Sorta like the LA-St. Louis-LA Rams.
Those theories are much tougher to argue when the Rapids shell out big bucks for Tim Howard. You didn't see Chivas USA make any moves like that in its final two years.
The Front Office doesn't often make moves the way I'd make, although, to their credit, they tried. I've been a strong advocate for an attacking mid and a top-notch defensive midfielder, and for a DP signing at any position from the Mexican National team. Alan Pulido was tried, but didn't work out.
Even if the front office wants to go about building things a different way than I do, I think they want to build. And that's something that I can get excited about for 2016.