As Everton prepares to commences its US tour on Wednesday evening at PPL Park against the Philadelphia Union, they will do so without longtime goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Howard, who will not be between the posts for the Toffees against the Union, is still resting after a grueling CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament in which the North Brunswick, N.J. native served admirably as the shot stopper for the U.S. Men's National Team. He should have ample opportunities to gain match fitness before the start of the upcoming 2011-12 English Premier League season, but Howard may need a bit more time in the interim to recharge the batteries before resuming his role as one of the best 'keepers in the EPL and one of the great success stories in U.S. Soccer.
His club's loss during their U.S. tour is our gain, as Howard gave a few moments of his time to chat by phone on Wednesday morning with your friendly neighborhood soccer blogger about his own preparations ahead of the EPL season, his club's lack of noise thus far in the transfer market, his thoughts on missing the U.S. matches this week and on next week's MLS All-Star Game, and his enthusiasm in appearing in a slew of advertisements for Allstate.
Without further ado, here's my conversation with Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard:
ESPNNY: How are things going with preparation for the upcoming season with Everton?
Howard: Part of preparation is the rest and mentally preparing is the biggest part because it is a long, tough, grueling season. All in all, it’s going well. The spirit in the group is high. I’m ready and looking forward to getting back into action. Fingers crossed, we can have a good start and put ourselves into the position to hopefully get into the top four.
ESPNNY: There hasn’t been much chatter in terms of transfers for Everton going through this particular window. What are your feelings about the lack of movement for your club thus far?
Howard: We’re always disappointed when there’s not a lot of player movement. I think everyone involved is. Our manager, David Moyes, has shown that’s he’s pretty shrewd in the transfer market and can wheel and deal without a ton of money. But yes, I think in order to move forward, the club needs to spend money and keep up with each other. At the moment, we haven’t brought anybody in but we’re optimistic that will happen before the close of the transfer window. I do think it’s important – it just lifts the squad a little bit and gives everybody a boost.
ESPNNY: Is there anything in particular position or area that the team could use?
Howard: We have two very good top strikers, but when it comes to strikers, they’re priceless. You can always use more firepower – it’s a long season. In losing Stephen Pienaar last year, he was one of our top wingers. He’s a guy we’re trying to replace. And of course in the back, we’re on the fortunate side but we keep talking about how long the season is, those kind of things are forced to have quality and depth.
ESPNNY: There was some reports yesterday about how you won’t be with the team over the next few days at Philadelphia and at Washington. Is that accurate?
Howard: It is. I’m going on my manager’s advice to shut it down and take some more rest. He knows how much I’ve put in the last 12 months and what the next 12 months look like. He’s been generous enough to give me an opportunity to rest and get ready for this next long stretch of the season.
And part of that, unfortunately, is not being around tonight. I wish I could be there. I know the people of Philadelphia are excited for it and that’s the reason we came. We knew what good preparation it would be.
ESPNNY: So, in the end, it was the manager’s advice and not necessarily that you requested the next few days off?
Howard: Yes. Those decisions are obviously made jointly, but unfortunately, they were made quite a long time ago. They don’t get made this week. Those types of things are discussed amongst ourselves months and months in advance. That’s the unfortunate part.
ESPNNY: I wanted to change speeds a bit. Next week, Major League Soccer is preparing for its All-Star Game. You had the distinction of being able to play on both sides in that you played once upon a time for MLS and also, in 2009, you were there with Everton. I was curious about your impressions of that match since you were on both sides of the MLS All-Star Game.
Howard: That’s a good point. I’ve played for both of those teams – I’ve played for Everton against the All-Star team. I think it can be a pretty intense game. I think the All-Stars in the new format have something to prove. A European club comes over and they’re promoting themselves as well. I think the MLS All-Stars can handle themselves.
In terms of Manchester United, I think they’re very much in a transition. That usually means bad things, but not for ManU. It’s going to be exciting to watch them revamp their team from last year and kind of see what they have going on going forward. They have to replace a few different players, but they always do that and do it well.
ESPNNY: So will there be a small part of you maybe scouting as ManU prepares for the upcoming season?
Howard: If I watch, it’ll be fan first. We do enough scouting over the course of the year. We’ll have plenty of meetings on what Manchester United does. So, I won’t watch it just for that reason. But yeah, I’ll certaintly tune in. I have no doubt that they’ll play that in England. And I’ll be tuning in to see my new Allstate commercial.
ESPNNY: Could you tell me a bit about the new commercial?
Howard: It’s quite a funny one, I think, of all of them. The most entertaining. It’s called “Borange” and actually airs today on YouTube. (Ed. Note: You can see it here.) I’m super excitied to partner with Allstate this year, first year partner of MLS and and the U.S. Men's National Team. Those are all things that mean a lot to me as well as the protective side of things, being a goalkeeper and all. It’s going to be kinda cool, kind of exciting, and I think people will really enjoy this commercial. I will, I’m going to watch and enjoy the game as well.
ESPNNY: Did you have any problems with your own humility, or having a sense of humor in doing these commercials?
Howard: I think that’s the part I like about it the most -- The humor and how they twist it and made it not your run-of-the-mill type of sports commercial. I enjoyed watching, being in the process, being a part of making it, and then seeing it come to fruition.
ESPNNY: Before I let you go, could you handicap your expectations for the start of the upcoming EPL season?
Howard: I think that the Champions League, a lot of people talk about it. It’s very difficult – most clubs don’t actually attain that goal until the end of May at the last games of the season. All of that is put in place, particularly early on, we’ve shown over the course of the last 10 years that when the winter months come, the really hard, tough months, that we can grind with the best of them and we’ve always seemed to flourish in that time.
Our goal and the key to this season will be get off to a fast start and collect a lot of points early on, really make it tough on the teams around us and try to pull away earlier. Last year, we started to pull away from some teams but it happened later in the season. I think every team’s trying to do that, but the more players we can bring in with quality, the better we’ll be in that regard. Having said that, our top players are very, very good.
We have every opportunity to make that right, get some points early on. If we can do that, we’ll be a happy bunch of guys and our manager will be happy as well.