One of the big questions this off-season for the Colorado Rapids has been the rumors of Tim Howard coming over from Everton FC. Howard, the USMNT keeper, is a legend here in the United States and would bring a massive name to the Rapids. But is it the right move?
Royal Blue Mersey, the SB Nation blog that covers Everton FC reached out to me and we exchanged questions about this possible move. Here is what we talked about
Burgundy Wave: Can you tell the Rapids a little about Tim Howard from the Everton POV?
Royal Blue Mersey: Tim Howard at Everton is a classic case of how a star can fall from grace by outstaying his welcome. When he was transferred to Everton at the beginning of the 2006-07 season, he brought stability to a position vacated by former England goalkeeper Nigel Martyn, who for his part had been the best goalie to worn Everton's colors since legend Neville Southall retired. His athletic style won him many admirers, and in the defensive schemes that former manager David Moyes established the American goalie thrived.
After Moyes left three years ago though, Roberto Martinez came in with a more attack-minded philosophy. That season probably marked the high point of Howard's time at Goodison Park, as the Toffees narrowly missed out on qualification for the Champions League. That season culminated in the 2014 World Cup when Howard was a mainstay for the USMNT. Fans were hoping he would carry that stellar performance into the next Premier League season, but that was not to be.
Everton struggled mightily playing on multiple fronts including the Europa League, and so did Howard. He recorded the lowest save percentage of his career as the Blues slumped to a disappointing mid-table finish. Martinez's open playing style came under renewed criticism as all of the possession in the world didn't keep Everton from scoring goals, and committing multiple players to the attack meant the defence was stretched and broken more often than not.
This season has seen more of the same, as Everton are especially bad at home and have been shipping goals by the bucketload. Statistically, there's little between Howard or the current starter Joel Robles, but to the naked eye it seems the team looks more stable with Joel in goal. Martinez has defended Howard to the hilt, giving him all his backing and continuously talking about his legacy at Everton, but even he has now acknowledged that Joel is the better 'keeper, and has made the switch.
BW: What can Rapids fans expect from Tim Howard?
RBM: Howard's athletic ability makes him an excellent shotstopper. His incredible fitness has made him something of an ironman, with a run of 210 consecutive Premier League games started just two games short of the club record. Fans have criticized his 'star-jumps' on the goal line, but that is exactly what makes him a reactionary goalie that is capable of making point-blank range saves as he makes himself 'bigger'.
His biggest failing remains the same as it always was - Howard's lack of command in the air means every cross or setpiece that comes flying into the box immediately becomes a scoring chance. Even when he comes out for the ball, he is rarely capable of gathering it in safely and ends up punching or even palming it away into some dangerous spaces, which doesn't help the team.
Supporting Howard with a compact defence seems like the best chance for the goalie to succeed and play at least another couple of years. His health has rarely been a big issue during his career, and having a reliable, and possibly veteran, pair of centerbacks to cover him in the air should help him.
Strangely, Howard seems to be a much more vocal leader for the USMNT than for Everton. It's almost like he needs to be the main man to succeed?
BW: What has happened to Howard and his form
RBM: He seems to have become the fall guy for Everton's struggles this season. Especially at Goodison, the fans seem incensed by the presence of Howard and overall it has turned into a toxic situation. It is no surprise that the Toffees have a much better record away from home.
Miscommunication and injuries have played a big part in his loss of form. Ironically, it's not injuries to Howard that has caused this, but to defenders in front of him. Veterans Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman have all missed long periods, while John Stones' cavalier ways have made Everton more prone to quick counter attacks. With the rotating cast of players in front of him, communication errors have abounded and pretty much every time a team counters against the stretched defence, a scoring chance has resulted.
Manager Martinez doesn't appear to have a lockdown strategy to fall back to when the Blues are in the lead, and this has resulted in the team dropping points when in winning positions multiple times this season. While Howard's save percentage is better than last season, it just seems that he has failed to use any veteran leadership to rally the forces when the team is under pressure.
Fans can be notoriously fickle and their memories short-lived - Howard has been an excellent servant of the club and has done much more than any player in the Toffees' history to promote the club in the USA. It's a shame it had to end this way, but it is probably for the best now that Howard leaves Everton. It would be good for the fans to acknowledge his ten years at the club in a more respectful manner though.
Royal Blue Mersey: Tim Howard has been linked with the Colorado Rapids right from the outset - what is the link? Or is it the goalie situation at the Rapids fueling these rumors
Burgundy Wave: The main reason for the link is that the Rapids carry the number one spot in the Major League Soccer Allocation order. For those who may not know what the allocation order is, this is the mechanism that MLS uses to allocate returning USMNT players back to MLS. Basically, when a USMNT player is returning to MLS to play (like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, etc) they go through this allocation order to be assigned to a team. As the Rapids have that top spot in the allocation order, they are able to work with a player (and his current team) on a transfer to Colorado.
The larger question for many people is why? The Rapids had/have a stable goalkeeping situation. They did trade All-Star Clint Irwin to Toronto FC in the off-season, but still have Zac MacMath who has over 100 starts in Major League Soccer. The Rapids have many needs, but Goalkeeping is not one of them. However, Howard offers the Rapids something they have never had: a big, recognizable name that will get 'butts in the seats' and get people energized about this team.
RBM: For a goalkeeper in as bad a rut as Howard is, he sure is asking for a lot of money in wages. How does the Rapids fanbase feel about him and his demands?
BW: Honestly, the demands (if true) are shocking. There is no scenario that paying nearly $5 million a year for four years for a goalkeeper that is in the form of Howard makes sense. The bulk of the Rapids fanbase seem to like the idea of Howard in Burgundy, but can't justify paying that amount. If Howard were to accept less money, I think the fanbase would be quite excited about his pending arrival.
RBM: How about the management at the Rapids, do you think would they be interested in getting Howard despite his advanced years?
BW: The Rapids have been a dumpster fire for the past two years. In 2013, the Rapids were one of the most exciting and young teams in MLS. They set team records for points and wins in that season and made the MLS playoffs. In that off-season they lost their head coach and and began a downward spiral over the next two season that led to 17 wins in 68 games including an 18 game winless run. They have been, in a word, terrible
So for the Rapids, they need to make a splash. They were dead last in attendance last season and the fanbase is restless and frustrated. The Rapids FO believes that Howard could bring people back to the park to see the Rapids and make them a must see event. And they (the Rapids Front Office) are willing to overpay to make that a reality.
RBM: Tell our fans a little more about the Rapids - how about three reasons why Toffees should cheer for Colorado in this upcoming season?
BW: The Rapids are one of the original ten MLS franchises and are beginning their 21st year in the league. They have one MLS Cup Championship (in 2010) and have a very passionate and hard working fanbase that cares for this team very deeply.
Why should Everton cheer for the Rapids? 1) In 2008, the Rapids hosted Everton in Colorado and the Toffees knocked off the Rapids 2-1 in front of a capacity crowd at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (our home pitch). 2) The Rapids are the team that is the underdog in everything. We have to work hard for everything that we have and nothing is given to us. We embrace that role and would not want it any other way. 3) We don't have the big names that other teams have and want to find the diamonds in the rough and win football matches with a team of 11 rather than one or two big names that many other teams have.