Divock Origi of Belgium shoots against Tim Howard of the United States during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.
Tim Howard is on top of the world right now.
Despite Team USA's heartbreaking loss to Belgium on Tuesday, Howard's rock-solid performance will be remembered by fans — in photos, GIFs and petitions — for ages.
The excitement over Howard's World Cup record-setting 16 saves is well-deserved. But as optimism brims over what the U.S. might accomplish at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, one question looms in the back of every new soccer fan's mind:
Will Tim Howard play in the 2018 World Cup?
The simple answer: it's very unlikely, though not impossible.
Howard, who is 35, will be 39 years old by the next World Cup. But history says we've likely seen Howard's final appearance on global soccer's biggest stage. He is committed to another five years with his club, Everton, but has hinted at his retirement after his time with Everton comes to an end.
The 33-to-35-year-old range is typically a goalkeeper's prime, which is why — like Italy's Gianluigi Buffon, who minded the net for his squad in Brazil at age 36 — this will probably be Howard's last national team appearance in the World Cup. It's also worth noting that
it is far from uncommon for soccer players to retire from national team duty before they end their professional careers.it is far from uncommon for soccer players to retire from national team duty before they end their professional careers.
Take Germany's Oliver Kahn, for example. Kahn played for the German national team in the 2002 World Cup at the age of 33. Throughout the entire tournament, Kahn conceded only three goals — two of which were in the final against Brazil. For his heroic efforts, Kahn was awarded the Golden Ball, reserved for the World Cup's best player, and the Golden Glove, given to the tournament's best goalkeeper.
Then in 2006, at the age of 37, Kahn made the German national team (this time coached by one Jurgen Klinsmann) again, but as a backup. Kahn made only one appearance in the tournament, during Germany's third place match against Portugal. That was Kahn's last World Cup, but he still played for the club team Bayern Munich in Germany's Bundesliga until he was 39.
Many other goalkeepers, such as Manchester United's Danish legend Peter Schmeichel, played until about age 40 for club teams, staying on as pros for a few years after retiring from their national squads.
But if you want to believe Howard has one more run in him, consider Dino Zoff. Zoff captained and played goalkeeper for Italy in the 1982 World Cup, leading the team to victory at age 40. Soccer (and more specifically, modern goalkeeping) has changed a lot since then, so it's not a perfect comparison. But Howard could certainly look to Zoff for inspiration should he want to return to the pitch for the USA.
We are, however, getting ahead of ourselves. Howard just played one of the best games of his life, and is surely physically and emotionally drained right now. Whether or not he'll return to the World Cup stage is probably not even on his radar at the moment. Plus, before the next World Cup, the U.S. still has two major international tournaments on the more immediate horizon: the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Copa America.
Who is Howard's heir-apparent?
At the moment, all eyes are on Brad Guzan, who was on the bench at the Arena Fonte Nova on Tuesday watching Howard defend for his country. Barring Klinsmann discovering some younger prodigy such as Germany's Manuel Neuer or Belgium's Thibault Courtois, Guzan — currently 29 — will be the keeper going into the 2018 World Cup, when he should be just hitting his prime at 33.
Guzan plays for the English Premier League team Aston Villa and has been apart of the U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) since 2006. He's always been the second choice goalkeeper for Howard, and has played in some matches while Howard was injured throughout the years; however, he has never been battle-tested in a high stakes international match. Still, Guzan is a goalkeeping beast and should do just fine for the U.S. going into the future.
If there's anything wrong with Guzan, it's that he falls into the same age dilemma that the USMNT finds itself in right now with Howard.
Turning 33 before the 2018 tournament, Guzan will likely have just one World Cup in him.Turning 33 before the 2018 tournament, Guzan will likely have just one World Cup in him.
The sad truth about Guzan is that he's likely a transition for whatever young U.S. keeper will truly inherit Howard's throne to ideally play in multiple World Cups and perhaps earn as many international caps as Howard's 104.
Who will be that keeper in 2022? It's almost impossible to say. Perhaps it could even be Jurgen Klinsmann's son, a teenager in the U.S soccer system. It's also certainly possible that some currently unknown in high schooler, inspired by Howard's performance on Tuesday, could find himself filling his hero's shoes.
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