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Reassessing the Tim Howard acquisition

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Given Zac MacMath's form last year and so far this season, was acquiring Tim Howard really necessary?

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

While I've never wavered about Tim Howard’s skills as a goalkeeper and my fandom with him as the keeper for our USMNT, I’ve always been a bit mixed about Howard coming to the Colorado Rapids. Yes, he was certainly a plus for our squad, and he gave the Front Office a bit more credibility with a discouraged and disgruntled fanbase. I get it, and I appreciate the effort and initiative it took to bring him to Commerce City.

I remember sitting at the July 4th game last year when the Rapids played the Timbers to a 0-0 draw. I leaned over to my sons and said, "Can you believe that we are watching Tim Howard in a Rapids kit? Seriously?" Many (not all, mind you, but many) felt like a kid who just opened their Christmas present to find what they always hoped for but never thought they would have.

There's no question that Tim Howard brings strong leadership and street cred to a success-starved Colorado Rapids squad. After the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals against the LA Galaxy, where Howard came up big when the match went to PKs, Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said:

I think it's been really what he's brought to the group from a leadership perspective when he set foot in the locker room. Obviously, for me, he's still one of the best keepers in the world. . . . [H]e brings more than just his performance on the field. What he exudes as a human being has been transformational to the group.

I mentioned to our esteemed BW editor last night, "watching those PKs against LA never gets old. Greatest sports event I've seen live." Celebrating that with fellow Rapids supporters (especially my two boys) was an event I'll always cherish.

That's what makes this article so difficult to write.

After 22 games with Howard in goal, many Rapids fans have had time to let the emotional dust settle regarding having the Secretary of Defense and USMNT legend Tim Howard don the Rapids shield (as well as finding our beloved boys in burgundy with a 1-5-1 record in the basement of the Western Conference) and have come to varying conclusions. Here's mine:

Given what we know now, I believe that the Rapids, from a strictly business and tactical perspective, made an error in acquiring Howard.

Why?

  1. He wasn't an upgrade on the pitch. Even though Howard was an upgrade in marketability, MacMath at 25 is every bit as good as Howard at 38. In the same amount of games played as MacMath, Howard was 6-8-3 with 19 goals allowed (again, compared to 9-5-3 with 13 goals allowed for MacMath). Howard came in spite of MacMath's performance, not because of it. This year, MacMath's record is 1-0-3 with five goals allowed, compared to Howard's 0-1-2 record with six goals allowed (that's one more goal allowed in one fewer games). Granted, the competition was different and it takes more than a goalkeeper to keep goals out. However, Howard's absence did not bring any drop-off in the games he's missed.
  2. The Rapids spent a truckload of money on an unnecessary upgrade that could have addressed two to three other positions to help the offense. As Rapids Rabbi showed us recently, Howard is due $2.475 million in compensation in 2017, compared to MacMath's $150,000. The MLS median salary (again, thanks for passing this along, Mark) is $135,000. The possibilities of procuring a potential player to score goals or at least provide better service has to come into play.
  3. He's taking up a DP spot that could be used for an offensive player. For those of you new to MLS, Wikipedia has a great article that helps understand what the Designated Player Rule entails. If MacMath weren't in the picture, the extent of the investment in Howard is understandable. But considering that we have a starter-caliber keeper, and we're also using another DP slot in Juan Ramirez (who's always out on loan), perhaps we could have brought in someone that could have made an impact on the offense. (It’s also worth noting that I fully support Shkelzen Gashi's inclusion on the team as a DP, and believe once he's fully fit will contribute greatly.)

We as supporters understand that sometimes front offices make transactions that are designed to address issues both on and off the field. I applaud the Rapids for making some noise in a sports-saturated city where gaining traction is difficult for a soccer team. Friends of mine, who had very little interest in soccer up until that point, approached me about Howard becoming a Rapid. While I haven't crunched the numbers, I do know there was a buzz around Burgundy Nation.

That’s why this is nothing personal to Tim Howard. I'm grateful for all he's brought to our national team and, yes, to the Rapids. I am sure he is a terrific leader in the locker room (as Mastroeni observed) and that MacMath benefits greatly from observing him.

Last year, the Rapids featured more on the local news than at anytime previously that I can remember. Why? Sure, part of it was Tim Howard, but the major reasons were simple: the Rapids earned results and made noise.

I am a Tim Howard fan, for sure, but I am a Colorado Rapids supporter above all else. I, and many other Rapids supporters, do not care about public relations moves to bring more fans to the seats if that's at the expense of the greater good of the team.

Do you think the Tim Howard acquisition worth it? Do you see other intangibles that are more important than the hard data? Sound off in the comments section.