AP Sports Writer
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Tim Howard releases an “Ahhh!” that echoes through empty Stanford Stadium as he makes a diving stop during a basic keep away drill.
True to form, the American goalkeeper is good-naturedly running his mouth about as much as he’s running around during World Cup training camp, sporting one of the biggest grins in the group.
During that same warm-up drill, Howard razzed fellow goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando at every chance. Nobody would want it any other way.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is counting on that constant chatter and so much more from Howard to lead an inexperienced U.S. defense into the World Cup opener against Ghana on June 16.
Howard’s leadership figures to be crucial next month during a daunting Group G with three tough tests: Ghana, the team that sent the U.S. home from the past two World Cups; Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the Amazon heat; and a match with Germany, the team Klinsmann coached to the 2006 semifinals.
Already among the best goalkeepers of his generation and near the top of England’s Premier League, Howard is leaving his mark on U.S. soccer, too.
“We need a Tim Howard that gives them confidence,” said Klinsmann, who announced his 23-man roster Thursday. “We need that very vocal Tim Howard. And that’s what he’s doing. It’s fun to watch. He’s looking over their shoulder; he gives them advice, not only on the field when we train, but also when they hang out in the cafeteria as a group together. He is making sure that they are confident, that they know what they’re doing, and also that they can make mistakes, because nobody’s perfect.”
Howard also helps keep everybody loose while doing the grueling work that Klinsmann considers necessary to catch up with much of the rest of the World Cup field.
That gregarious style is quite a change for defender Geoff Cameron from his usual goalie with Stoke, Asmir Begovic.
“He’s just a different yeller, you could say. I love playing in front of Tim,” Cameron said Thursday. “He’s got the experience. When he’s yelling at you, it’s not in a disrespectful manner. It’s just telling you directions and he see things differently than what I see. You always want eyes behind you telling you what to do.”
During one session, Howard made that dive to his left in front of Rimando of Real Salt Lake and volleyed the ball some 15 yards off his left hand.
“That’s the way, Tim!” shouted U.S. goalkeeper coach Chris Woods, who tutored Howard on David Moyes’ staff at Everton until last summer.
Howard, who followed other top Americans to England such as Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, last month signed a two-year contract extension through 2018 and is likely to close out his career with Everton. He’s still considered in his prime for the position at 35.
The 6-foot-3 Howard had 15 shutouts — one behind co-leaders Petr Cech of Chelsea and Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny — in 37 league matches this season.
He has spent eight years as the Toffees’ starter after a three-season stint with Manchester United. From North Brunswick, New Jersey, he also played six years at home with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
While this could be Howard’s last hurrah with the national team to clear the way for backup Guzan to take on a larger role, he also might have one more World Cup in him.
With 97 career national team appearances, if he were to play all three of the sendoff exhibition games before departing for Brazil on June 8, Howard could tie Keller for most caps by a goalie with the national team — or pass him in the American World Cup opener.
Back from the cool English air, Howard is basking in the California sun at Stanford leading up to Tuesday night’s exhibition against Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park.
“He’s been fantastic. It speaks volumes about someone to spend most of their career in England, especially in the Premier League because it’s such a tough league,” Guzan said. “Consistency’s such a big factor of that. Hats off to him, because it’s not easy. You see so many players who go over there for maybe a year or two and they come back. It’s not ideal for them and it doesn’t work out for whatever reason. Tim is obviously one of those guys that made it work and persevered through the tough times. He’s loved by everyone out there.”
Howard will be the first goalie to be No. 1 for the U.S. in consecutive World Cups since Tony Meola in 1990 and ’94.
NOTES: D Omar Gonzalez, who allowed fans to vote on what his new haircut should be, debuted his new ‘do Thursday. “I just wanted to stop worrying about my looks and just start focusing on my play and the task at hand,” he said. Gonzalez, who arrived at camp nursing a left knee injury sustained May 3 with the Los Angeles Galaxy, is now 100 percent and participating in full training sessions.
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
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