Soccer is a simple game. The object is to score more goals than your opponent by passing the ball up the field and kicking it in the goal. The simple nature of the game is appealing to parents trying to get their children involved in sports at an early age. Judging from the six million youth soccer players there are in America, it’s pretty safe to say that almost every child in America has probably played soccer at one point or another in their life. The ironic thing about the sport is that even though so many people have played it, only a select few will be able to make it to the professional level. Over the past couple decades, the U.S. has dumped a lot of money into trying to assist the best youth players in reaching their full potential. But many of those players drift away from the game for one reason or another. Whatever the reasoning is, one thing is for sure – in order to make it to and succeed at the highest level of soccer, you must be extremely dedicated to getting there.
This is the case for the current U.S. men’s national soccer team. Every player on the squad has come up through the ranks and worked their butts off to get to where they are now, which is part of the reason why the U.S. is one of the most up-and-coming soccer teams in the world. The progress the U.S. has made since 1990 has been outstanding. The players on the current roster, which include Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, to name a few, are well-known throughout the world. Most of the players on the U.S. national team also play for European squads, which is much different than the national teams the U.S. have fielded in the past.
The World Cup is where the best soccer players in the world show everyone watching what they are made of. The U.S. knows they will need an excellent showing from their top players to advance through their group, which includes powerhouse England as well as Algeria and Slovenia. The U.S. team isn’t known for their technical skills as well as they are for their never-say-die mentality and intense work ethic. Sometimes these characteristics are enough to carry a team through a tournament such as the World Cup because in sports, especially soccer, wanting it more than your opponent makes all the difference.
This mentality goes back to the individuals that make up the U.S. squad. They’ve all taken pride in trying to be the best in the world at what they do, which is why they are where they are today. You could say this for the majority of the players on the U.S. team, but no one more than goalkeeper Tim Howard. Howard has fought through some personal battles in his life including living with Tourette Syndrome while playing a sport at its highest level. This is a remarkable feat in itself considering the position he plays is the most important one on the field. One minor mistake from the goalkeeper could spell disaster and disappointment for his team, and in Howard’s case, his country.
This is a lot to take on for anyone, especially someone suffering from a disorder such as TS, which is defined as a neurological disorder that reveals itself through involuntary movements known as tics. Howard had to deal with some negative criticism involving his disorder when he left the MLS in 2004 to play for one of England’s top clubs, Manchester United. The English newspapers had a field day with Howard’s situation, labeling him as being “retarded” as well as other negative connotations. He fired back at these skeptics and nay Sayers by being named the English Premier League’s Goalkeeper of the Year following his first season with Manchester United.
The elation for Howard didn’t last long, though, as a misplayed shot off a free kick was knocked in the back of the net by an opposing attacker in a Champions League match later that season. The coach of United at the time, Sir Alex Ferguson, thought Howard could no longer do the job, so in 2006 he left the club to play for Everton in Liverpool. There, he started to get back the confidence that made him the great goalkeeper everyone knew he was and can be. And this Saturday in Rustenburg, South Africa, he gets to show the world just what he is made of.
Howard is what dedication is all about – defying the odds and fighting through the rough times to come out stronger than you ever were before. Howard has never started a game in the World Cup, but you better believe that he’ll be ready to face the challenge ahead of him. His teammates and country depend on it.