Tim Howard happy to be back in MLS after more than a decade away
Major League Soccer is in a different place from when Tim Howard last patrolled the league’s penalty areas way back in 2003. The 20-team league is twice the size it was then. New York has two clubs, and neither is named the MetroStars, who played in a mostly empty NFL stadium then – though that was better than the Dallas Burn playing in a high school stadium.
After 13 years in the Premier League, which included stints at Manchester United and Everton, the 37-year-old Howard has returned to the United States to play for the , who won MLS Cup in 2010 and play in an 18,000-seat soccer-specific stadium in the Denver suburbs.
Since Howard played for the MetroStars, he has appeared in more than 100 matches for the US men’s national team, a record for a goalkeeper, and has become a spokesman for soccer here, if not an ambassador. When the NBC Sports Network asked him two years ago to moonlight as a commentator on Premier League telecasts, he was solid, if not spectacular.
Howard was supplanted at mid-season by Joel Robles as the starter at Everton, who later sacked their coach, Roberto Martinez. Howard started only two of Everton’s final 18 Premier League matches. But Howard said his contract extends through 2019, and he is eager to show he can win in a league that is much better than it was when he was 24 and had rather more hair.
“It is the ability to attract world-class talent,” he told the Guardian last week.
“I think David Beckham did an incredible service to US soccer,” Howard said, referring to the former England captain, who appeared in 98 MLS matches for the Los Angeles Galaxy between 2007 and 2012. “He was one of the biggest things in world football, and he chose to come to the MLS. It opened some eyes, and we have seen all the talent that has followed since.
“That part, for me, has been great. There were obviously one or two talented footballers in the MLS, but now we have an influx of them. From the US side of things, our players are becoming more [successful] at a younger age. We have kids playing in Europe. We have kids playing major roles within the league here. That was something I didn’t see when I left.”
The 20-year-old MLS is generally seen to be much more viable than when Howard last played in it, but it is still is regarded by some as a place for older players – like Howard – to ride out their professional careers while being paid well. (Howard reportedly will make between $2.5m and $2.8m a season with the Rapids.)
Howard did not play for the US team in Copa America; he was supplanted by Brad Guzan of Aston Villa, who will play in the second-tier Championship next season after relegation from the Premier League. Further, the US were clearly outclassed by Argentina in that 4-0 semi-final loss. (Howard said he intends to continue playing for the US team internationally, if he is selected.)
But Howard appears to have provided a bump at the ticket booths. Although a post-match fireworks display might have had something to do with it, Howard’s debut with the Rapids, a 0-0 draw with Portland on the Fourth of July, drew 18,759, nearly 20% more than the Rapids’ average in 2015, when they were the poorest-drawing MLS team at home.
When asked how big he thought the MLS could get – maybe even bigger than a European league? – Howard said: “Look, it’s a good league, and the numbers would tell you that. But it’s also a growing league, and it has been around for two decades or so. We have to try and get better each and every year. Of course, you set a target. Maybe there’s a league in Europe where we can say: we want to be better than this league or that league.”
On the other hand, Howard doesn’t necessarily see it as a hindrance to attracting talent that MLS doesn’t compete in big competitions like the Champions League.
“There are a lot of good teams in the MLS,” Howard said. “We keep seeing that with the talent we have on display – with more foreign players who are trying to ply their trade in the MLS, that’s clearly isn’t something have to worry about. There are a heck of a lot of teams in the Premier League who don’t have a chance in hell of making the Champions League, but players are going to be attracted to those clubs, too.”
Howard will be 40 when his contract with the Rapids expires, but he did not sound like a professional athlete making a transition to retirement. He took the job as a Premier League commentator with NBC, he said, because it did not interfere with his regular job, which was playing for Everton. He figures he has three and a half years left in his career, and he plans to make the most of this chance.
Asked what he would miss about living in England, Howard laughed when he said: “I won’t miss the rain.”
But he then said: “Everton became my home. I have been very open about that. I’ll miss everything affiliated with that club. I had a really good life, great friends, all of those kind of day-to-day things will be sorely missed. But I’ll keep in touch.”