He’s not mad. Seriously.
I’d waited three years to ask Tim Howard, one of the most decorated players in the history of U.S. soccer, about the 2014 World Cup. You may remember: in a 2-1 loss to Belgium, Howard broke a record with 15 stops, which led to a popular Internet meme and shout out from then-President Obama.
What he didn't seem to get was a lot of help for his team. A point Howard completely disagrees with.
“You know what? My job is to stop the ball from going in the net,” says the goalkeeper, smiling congenially and resting in a hotel room at the Chicago Athletic Association. “If I have to do it one time or 15 times, it’s not for me to complain. Plenty of times I’ve been bailed out. There’s a yin and a yang to team sports. We were in a tough game to a dominant European opponent, they were incredible in every facet, and they made it tough.”
You’re not going to get a provocative statement from Howard, who was in Chicago for the MLS All-Star game against Real Madrid — where, once again, Howard did his job, but the U.S. team faltered down the stretch after he was substituted.
While in Chicago, Howard was also announced as a brand ambassador for the Swiss watch brand TAG Heuer, the official watch and timekeeper of Major League Soccer. The company also used the event to launch special MLS watch faces for their Connected Watch, featuring designs inspired by interviews with players from each club.
If anyone’s set to be ambassador, it’s Howard. As the most capped goalkeeper in history for the U.S. men’s team and a starter for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup teams, the New Jersey native is the face of soccer for casual American fans. After 13 seasons in Europe with Manchester United F.C. and Everton F.C, he’s returned to the U.S. to play for the Colorado Rapids and promote the MLS — a league that isn’t making Neymar-like headlines, but Howard insists is moving in the right direction.
We grabbed Howard for 10 minutes ahead of the All-Star Game to get his thoughts on watches, relegating teams and why Europe may start giving our soccer teams a bit of respect.
InsideHook: Are you a watch guy at heart?
Tim Howard: Yeah, I actually am. It’s kind of a vice, actually. I like a watch with functionality and style. The best of both worlds. I think most guys I know would say that.
IH: Speaking of time — see what I did there — what brought you back to the MLS?
TH: Well, the timing was amazing. It was hard to put finger on all of it, but I wanted to accomplish some stuff with the national team. And the people at Colorado Rapids have a vision.
IH: It’s been tough year, though [Editor's note: Colorado is currently in last place in the Western Conference].
TH: It has been tough. Yeah, things aren’t going well, but we have no divine right to win a match. We’re still on track — there are bumps in the road, and I’m challenged more every day than I have been in a long time.
IH: A few years back you were in England, playing in a match on a Saturday and commenting from the booth on a Sunday. Have you thought about doing that again?
TH: Maybe when it’s time to retire (laughs). I enjoyed that experience. I was a rookie all over again. Learning the ropes, getting better game by game. And it’s fun when you get better! It made me want to try it again. I will say that the broadcasting part of soccer is getting much better in America. Better production. The world seems to be watching.
IH: How does the rest of the globe view MLS?
TH: What we found is that we’re getting better in all facets of the game. Now we have top players wanting to come over. The league is a destination. They want to become part of a franchise, and take them on their backs. Maybe they’ll get statues of themselves outside of the stadium.
IH: That’s the players. What about the fans?
TH: Games are getting broadcast in Europe, sure. People are taking notice.
IH: One thing that might help is relegating bad teams, which seemed to be on the table. [Ed. note: The MLS recently turned down a multi-billion-dollar broadcast deal that would've required them to install a promotion and relegation system, which most European leagues use.]
TH: I saw that! It’s cool if it’s a video game. When you have promotion/relegation, like when I played in England, they have parachute payments, so those teams that get relegated are sustained and don’t die. Players leave if they’re relegated. You need to be rock solid on the financial side to have that.
IH: Final question: What was your greatest rivalry?
TH: I have two simultaneous great rivalries, USA-Mexico and Everton-Liverpool. To pick one would be impossible. Both of those gave me fear and joy like I’ve never felt before.
Main image via TAG Heuer