The recent rumors about the Colorado Rapids signing American and Everton goal keeper Tim Howard have certainly evoked substantial response from the fan base. Seems a lot on the negative side fueled by the teams glaring needs. The main criticisms of the move are that’s just a money grab and we already had a good keeper and it doesn’t solve our lack of goal scoring or make the team better. What I contend is that those arguments are quick, understandable, but knee jerk reactions to a team that had such a rough year last campaign. What if those reactions are wrong?
Let’s be crystal clear here, this rumor was born from a single, unnamed source. Anyone that has watched Newsroom or taken a Journalism 101 course knows that stories need to be verified and confirmed from at least two separate sources. Right now, Walter Cronkite is paternally waving his finger at all of us on this one. That being said, it’s the offseason, so why not hypothesize right?
Let’s slide tackle the first piece of the less than gleeful reactions to the move: it’s a money grab. Yes, it absolutely is. All signings, by any team, in any sport are a money grab. Professional sports teams are all business endeavors. Any money you spend is done so with the goal of providing returns. This isn’t a bad thing, not in the slightest. If a move like this provides the return on investment that it should, then it’s that much easier to get ownership to keep filling the war chest to get more players.
So, Tim Howard comes to Denver. All of sudden our Rapids are the front of the sports page, people are talking about the club, people are coming to the games. There is a buzz that even the 2010 MLS Cup didn’t provide. Add a couple of thousand soccer fans to DSGP and the stadium starts to gain energy. The experience goes up, people come back, and the seeds of a soccer culture and deeper fan experience are fostered. I love the idea of signing Bedoya. He’s a fantastic, young US national that would directly impact our offensive limitations. Here’s the reality though: ask 10 people on the street who Tim Howard is and you will get most or all knowing the name. Ask the same of Bedoya and you are lucky to get half.
Howard is the face of US soccer. He had one of the greatest performances in goal most of will ever see against one of the best young teams in the world in the 2014 World Cup. A performance in a loss that was so stunning it warranted a call from the President of the United States. 15 total saves that allowed our Yanks to stay in and compete in a game that we’d have lost 6-1 had it not been for Tim Howard. That gravitas has a real value to a team that is in desperate need of an identity that transcends beyond the confines of DSGP. He puts us on a local and national stage. All of this leads to the club being able to generate more marketing and sponsorship revenue.
Filling more seats, selling more nachos, beer, jerseys and scarves means something important. It allows this team to pursue players that demand larger salaries, it allows us to give raises and keep players we already have and want, it allows additions to support staff and scouting. These are all things that can make this team better and it is an impact that is something that other rumored signings, Bedoya included, don’t carry with them. Being better on the pitch is immensely important, but it doesn’t carry the weight of growing awareness of the team on its own.
The next issue though. Sure, Tim Howard will get people to the stadium, but if we continue to lose, don’t score goals or entertain those coming out, it won’t mean a damned thing. Exactly, this is exactly true, but it’s thinking in the single or second dimension. The reality is we’ve added some important pieces that will help us be more competitive. Azira is a good midfielder, Pfeffer can really play and would have likely been a top 5 pick if he were in the 2016 draft, and Marco Pappa is a real player. Resigning Burling solidifies the center of our back four with St. Ledger in the middle. There is also the addition of John Spencer on the coaching staff which adds some real, needed experience. He had an expansion team competing for the playoffs in their first season, he was on the coaching staff of the Houston Dynamo when they won back to back MLS Cups, and also was the head coach that took their reserve team to a championship.
These are solid moves, but there is more needed. We need to make sure we have the answer at left back and we still need more for the teams attack. Assessing this move with just this information certainly still deserves a raised eyebrow, but it ignores the fact that players are still being pursued and looking to be brought in. The MLS window hasn’t even opened yet, so a little patience is fair isn’t it?
Ok, I know what you are saying, they always promise us this and never deliver. Sure, sure, but let’s roll back the clock a second. Gaby Torres didn’t pan out here, but they got him when anyone and everyone in the league wanted him. His form in the Gold Cup was massive and he ended up in Burgundy. Now consider this: Kevin Doyle. The “Rapids never spend money” argument should be put deeply in the bottom of the complaint drawer. Doyle can play, although he needs support (we’ll get to that later) and ownership is paying 7 figures for him (a first for us). Until 2 years ago, the Rapids didn’t spend or try and spend money. That simply isn’t the case anymore. There is money in the coffers. The war chest is healthy.
These points should not be white washed with all the skepticism that is out there. Sure, we’ve missed on some players, but that’s the nature of the business. Everybody misses, ask Man United who can’t sign anyone these days and they bathe in cash. Also, and more importantly and if we sign Howard, did anyone actually think we could ever sign him away from the Premier League? Maybe a little benefit of the doubt is warranted if that happens. At least for a couple weeks.
Tim Howard doesn’t score goals. Well, actually, there was that one time, but I get the point. No, Tim Howard isn’t a goal scorer that we need, but that doesn’t mean that his presence doesn’t impact the offense. First off, revisit the point(s) above, the team is still looking to add those players. Secondly though, don’t ignore the symbiotic connection of the 3 lines of a starting 11.
Tim Howard brings an ability to solidify our back line beyond what we’ve seen before at DSGP. I, we, loved Clint Irwin. He is a really good MLS keeper and he should do well in Toronto, but I am sure even Clint would acknowledge the difference in skill between himself and Tim Howard. Being the general in the box is so important to a team’s defensive integrity. Irwin was improving on that, but Howard brings that skill at a higher level and years of intense, international experience.
Remember that Belgium game? Imagine playing right, center or left back with that kind of shot stopper behind you. The confidence that comes with that will make any back better. Irwin was a good keeper, but let’s put some things in perspective of what you get with Howard. Know that keeper in Utah that has been a huge thorn in our sides for years? He’s the back up to the guy that back’s up Tim Howard on the national team. Rimando is arguably the best keeper in the league and we are getting the guy that is ahead of him in the lineup two times.
All this means a better defense, but still no goals dammit. Well, not exactly. Symbiotic relationships of the 3 lines of a starting 11, remember? Let’s talk about that. A more tactically sound defense enhanced by a player like Howard reduces the sag that a midfield suffers when a defense is tactically weak. It allows the midfield to play a higher line which then allows for a much stronger transition into the final, attacking third. With Kevin Doyle we now have a player who knows how to find the back of the net. Another player or two is needed, we’ve discussed that, but a new acquisition like Marco Pappa and playing Powers at the #8 (which is where he going to be playing this year) will make a huge impact in this.
Each of the three layers impact the others. I assume we all know this. Last year, the defense was markedly improved from 2014, but it came at a cost. Until the signings of St. Ledger and Figueroa, our defense was improved by a “team” approach. The team collapsed back to overcome some shortcomings in individual skills. This sag just destroyed our attack. Once we signed these 2 players, the offense got better, not great, but better because of their individual, tactical skill. St. Ledger is back, Figueroa went all Jerry Maguire on us and is gone, but Howard will definitely help. Again, still need to see what happens, but Burling and St. Ledger in the middle with Howard behind them is a really, really good core. It will help support the transition to the attack.
Boy, but he’s going to be 37 at the start of the season. Sure, he sure is. In 2 months Tim Howard will be 37. So, for the past 10 months he has been 36 years old. All he has done at the age of 36 is win the CONCACAF player of the year award, for what that is worth. He’s also still a starter in the Premier League at his ripe old age. At the ancient age of 35 he did that little thing in Brazil against Belgium. No one is ageless, but show me where Tim Howard is getting older. The man is in great shape. Seriously, Google some pics of the guy and tell me he looks old. He’s 36 and one of the top goalkeepers in arguably the top league in the world.
Let’s talk about age and keepers. Keepers play into their 40’s. Look at Gianluigi Buffon for Italy, one of the best keepers in the world (still) and is older than Howard. Age is different for keepers. Sure, we wouldn’t have him for the next 5-10 years, but I’ll take a couple years of service any day of the week.
It’s not a perfect answer, there are still holes in this roster, but we are talking about an American soccer legend here. Look, if nothing else, you get the chance for the next couple seasons to see Timmy Friggin Howard play in your stadium 17 times or more a season. Strip it all down and think about it, it’s Timmy Friggin Howard, American soccer hero. One of the best players to ever come out of this country and play on the international stage and he’d be wearing our colors and our badge. You get the chance to stand behind him (literally in the north or south stands) and cheer him on as one of yours. On top of that, regardless of the name we are talking about here, you are filling a position on your roster with one of the better players from the best league in the world. How often does that opportunity present itself to us in Rapid land and what team wouldn’t jump on that opportunity? If these last two points don’t excite you, I just don’t know what else to say.
But, again, all of this is based on some nameless person saying something that no one else has corroborated.