USA goalkeeper Tim Howard jumps, dives and saves, a man of action. When his defenders mess up, he is a man of words. Ouch! That stung. When he is standing in his area waiting for something to happen, he is a dreamer. Television viewers of soccer may have seen him in ads for the Allstate insurance company. He fantasizes about having hair, ponders rhymes and contemplates the navel of cool. So what really goes on inside the head of America's top goalie during a game?
"The Allstate ads are not pretty far off from what you might imagine. To remain focused for the entire ninety minutes is almost impossible. My mind does wander to many, many things. It is very close to what my reality is on a Saturday. I am focused on all aspects of the game too, of course, anticipating the next play but there is enough time for me to wander."
Hmmm. The wandering goalie, sounds poetic, and some in that breed do not limit themselves to the stanzas of the mind. Take the dreamer, Peruvian goalkeeper, Ramon Quiroga, affectionately known as "El Loco." He found his area too limiting and went for a walk, and with distinction became the only goalie in the history of the game to be yellow carded for a foul in the opponent's half of the field. Cue the nickname. Are goalies mad?
If you go to a soccer match, look at the keeper when the action is far removed. Does melancholia descend on their lonely existence? What is this wrestle between being the hero and the nightmare of being the villain? To avoid the latter, keepers have to block out the world around them, blanking the hostile fans behind the goal taunting with sheds of abuse. Ten thousand people calling you vulgar names. Tim Howard remembers, "cup competitions," when his club team, English Premier League side, Everton, "played teams in lower leagues, where the grounds are tighter and smaller, the fans are even more on top of you than a Premier League game, almost in touching distance." Add to this, the danger of the moron willing to throw missiles at you. Having to dodge bottles, coins, flares and sometimes urine bombs, as well as having to stop a soccer ball flying at speed. Hand out the medals for bravery. And for quick thinking.
During play, the goalkeeper can be the key to unlocking a goal. Think back to last year's World Cup and the USA game against Algeria. Into injury time, the USA facing elimination, Algeria attacked -- Howard was forced to make a save from a header. Quickly, he converted the ball in his hands into a torpedo. Launching the counter-attack with a precision throw to Landon Donovan up field led to the most famous goal in U.S. soccer history -- the Landon Donovan strike. "It is one of those things in goalkeeping that doesn't get enough attention paid to it," says Howard. "Good keepers sniff out attacks whether with the feet or a throw out. It is important to keep the other team on their heels to let them know that you will hit them quickly. They will not be prepared for it." Algeria went home. The USA went on, Howard the hero.
The New Jersey native is keeping an eye on the MLS Cup Final on Sunday between LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo. Having started his professional career in MLS with the Metro Stars, he sees a day when he will return to his roots, perhaps finishing his career with an American club. "I would like that to be on the cards. I want to go to a team that is dedicated to winning, not just any old club. That is important to me should I return to MLS."
There be, Tim Howard, his mind may wander but never off winning, "by any means necessary," as he says. Add ruthlessness to this goalie's wander.
(Disclosure -- The interview with Tim Howard was set up by Allstate, who requested one question be asked of the goalie about his relationship with the company.)
Follow Alan Black on Twitter: www.twitter.com/footyheader