Alrighty, Jason Davis. Let's chat.
Following the Colorado Rapids 2-1 loss to D.C. United last Saturday, I saw Twitter literally blow up over USMNT legendary goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The fuss was all about Howard's former Manchester United teammate and current United striker Wayne Rooney going 5-hole for his first MLS goal.
Getting nutmegged is probably one of the worst things that can happen on a soccer pitch, but it happens more often than people might realize. It's also amplified when it happens at the expense of a goalie, especially when it's someone like Howard.
People want the Howard of the 2014 World Cup, where he stopped a tournament-record 16 shots in a 2-1 loss to Belgium. Remember the whole #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave memes? He was king of the world back then.
But this is the now and the criticism has been turned up a notch... or 18.
So where does the 39-year-old stand in comparison to the other 22 starting goalkeepers in the MLS?
Just take a nice ol' look at this pretty table I put together!
|NAME||TEAM||AGE||SHOTS FACED||SAVES||GOALS ALLOWED||SAVE PERCENTAGE|
(All stats compiled from mlssoccer.com)
As of today (August 3, 2018), Howard ranks right in the middle of the pack. He's tied for 10th with saves at 69. He's 10th for shots faced at 101, 11th for goals against at 31, and tied for 11th in save percentage at 68.3%.
Howard is the oldest keeper in the league but just barely. He's three months and 11 days older than Real Salt Lake's keeper, Nick Rimando, but the median age for starting keepers is 29.1.
Montreal's Evan Bush has faced the most shots at 135, stopping all but 39. Portland's Jeff Attinella has only let 11 shots slip by him but ranks near the bottom for shots faced (53) which definitely helps his MLS-leading save percentage of 81.1%.
Before someone attacks me, let's address salary. Most MLS followers know that Howard makes the most out of every goalie out there and it's by a LONG shot. He bags $2.475 million of guaranteed money a year. The second-highest paid starting keeper in the MLS is Philadelphia's Andre Blake and he's pulling $500,000 a year. Because of this fact, I can understand why he takes some heat when he can't keep the goose egg on the board.
This is the other major reaction/question I've seen across the depths of the internet:
Let's check out some of the numbers.
Zac MacMath has played in two regular season MLS games so far this season and has started in one. MacMath came in as a sub in a 3-nil loss to RSL after Howard was awarded a red card for a hand ball outside the box in the 19th minute. MacMath then started the following game, a 2-1 loss to Orlando.
*EDIT: MacMath played and started in two more competitive games this season, a scoreless CCL game vs. Toronto (facing three shots, making three saves) and a 2-nil loss to Nashville SC in the U.S. Open Cup (three shots faced, one save, two goals allowed). In the RSL game, the Rapids were down to 10 men after Howard's red card, which is no easy task in a MLS match. A couple of handballs paved the way to goals and that didn't do any favors for MacMath's short stat sheet.*
In those two MLS games, MacMath faced 16 shots, stopping nine. He allowed five goals in that span to register a 56.3% save percentage.
That's just a tad better than Vancouver's Stefan Marinovic save percentage and he's dead last. And let's face it -- stopping a little more than half the shots you face will not cut it in the MLS, guys.
Outside of the numbers, I asked head coach Anthony Hudson for his two cents on the matter. Have they consider starting MacMath over Howard?
"It's always a consideration. I think we've just had a really tough spell. We've had a horrible, horrible period. And during that time, we've needed men. We've needed experienced players. We've needed the players in the dressing room who we trust are not going to be phased by the situation. As a team, collectively, during this period, we haven't been good enough. All of us. But certainly what Tim brings to the team is unbelievable. Not just on the pitch but off the pitch. As a captain, as a leader, what he does in the dressing room. And this is important for us."
It's obvious that Tim is the Rapids leader. I've heard the same remarks from his teammates the entire past year I've covered this squad. They trust Tim to lead them through the good times and the bad times. When Tim talks, the entire team listens. When they get scored on, no one points the finger at Tim. If anything, they look at him like a terrified son about to get chewed out by their disappointed father. Seriously, there is mad respect for Howard from the top to the bottom of this club.
I followed that question with this one: How do they pick who starts in net?
"It's the same as any other player on the pitch," said Hudson. "It comes down to many things and throughout the week, the discussions with the goalkeeping coaches are, again, the same conversations we have with all the staff in terms of how players train. We go over a lot of video."
It's clear that Howard performs better in training according to the Rapids coaches and staff and the only way MacMath will knock off Howard is by outplaying him. Simple as that.
So what's Tim's take on it all? Is he still performing at the top of his game?
"My play has been fine," Howard told me following Friday's training session. "In regards to performances, obviously we want to get that right. Every time you don't win, it's never a good thing, but obviously I have a job on this team and it's multifaceted. I do what I can."
It's crazy to think that his job is bigger than denying goal-hungry strikers but it's true. As captain, he and Hudson chat all the time about the state of the club.
"There's no other player who wants to know more about where this team is going and how we're getting there, what we're doing next. No one wants to know more than Tim Howard," added Hudson.
And Tim had a *special* message for all the haters out there.
"I think when it comes to critique, I've got massive shoulders. There's nothing I haven't heard in 21 years, you know? What I would say to critics is that I don't have a lot of time for them. But the so-called "experts" on social media? If they have the time and they want to come out from behind the keyboard, then we can sit down and break down every goal that the Rapids have conceded this year and I'd entertain their "expert" opinion and I think they'd very quickly see that they have no idea. This is part of the game. Being a goalkeeper isn't easy. That's why a lot of goalkeepers don't play for two decades 'cause it's hard. Criticism is what is is. I put the same amount of work in everyday. When I have stellar performances, I don't look for plaudits. I get on with my business the same as if we're not winning. You know I got nutmegged by Wayne Rooney. It sucks! If someone wants to critique me, you look at his goal-scoring record. He's the best striker that this world has seen in the last decade. Oh, it sucks, but I can explain to you what happened and why it happened. It's not as straightforward as Tim Howard is getting old, I can assure you that."
We'll see if he can back that statement up this Saturday when the Rapids host the LA Galaxy (who will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic) at Dick's Sporting Goods Park at 7 p.m. (MT).