Team USA may have fallen short in their quest for the World Cup, but goalie Tim Howard was the big winner in the match against Belgium, winning the hearts of fans (and the Internet) and becoming the stuff of legends.
Howard’s epic performance in Tuesday’s Round of 16 match earned him the ‘Man of the Match’ award and, for 90 minutes, kept America’s World Cup hopes alive. He made 12 saves in regulation time, stopping the relentless Belgian attack and keeping the goal empty to push the United States into an overtime showdown.
In total, Howard made a record 16 saves—the most ever in a World Cup match.
Though the United States eventually lost 2-1 to Belgium, Howard’s inspired one-man show, complete with leaps and dives, has made him America’s new sports hero.
Here is a closer look at the man of the moment:
Hero, legend, ‘modern Jesus’
The Internet memes and fodder were ripe with references to superheroes and legends after Howard’s tremendous saves in Tuesday’s match.
He’s cracked the world’s toughest soccer league
Howard began his soccer career at 18, playing as a reserve with his hometown MetroStars in New Jersey. After playing in the MLS for a while, he caught the attention of the English Premier League, the world’s top soccer league. He joined Manchester United in 2003, one of Europe’s biggest clubs, where he helped them win two titles and earned the title of Goalkeeper of the Year in England. After a few seasons, he moved to Everton FC and has further established himself as a top goalkeeper.
He’s a goal-scoring goalie.
Goalkeepers are usually the ones stopping goals, not scoring them. Howard, however, put one in the back of the net while playing for his club team, Everton.
Here is a video of the goal:
He has Tourette’s syndrome
Howard has lived with the neurological disorder, often associated with ticks, since childhood. He has embraced the condition, speaking with children who suffer from it and working to raise awareness, according to the journal Neurology Now.
“One of the biggest things I can do is be in the public eye,” he says. “It’s not like I even have to shout from the rooftops that I have TS. I’m on television, ticcing and twitching. I think that’s kind of cool.”
When it comes to soccer, Howard has learned to work with his condition. “I don’t suppress it,” he told German publication Spiegel Online , speaking specifically about when the ball is far away from him. But when things get serious in front of the goal, his muscles relax, he said.
“I have no idea. Not even the doctors can explain it to me. It’s probably because at that moment my concentration on the game is stronger than the Tourette syndrome.”
He loves animals and tattoos
Tattooed athletes are a dime a dozen, and the World Cup is no exception. But Howard uses his ink for a cause. He bared his tattoos last spring for PETA’s Ink not Mink campaign.
“Protecting animals is very important to me, and I think speaking out against fur is an amazing cause,” Howard told the animal rights organization. “When I see someone wearing fur, I just want to sit them down in front of one of PETA’s videos and show them just how badly animals suffer for this supposed fabric that no one needs.”
The Internet loves him
The US men’s national soccer team captured a lot of attention during their World Cup run, with large crowds turning out to parks, bars, and stadiums in the tens of thousands across the country to watch them play.
On Tuesday, the attention centered on Howard, who demonstrated exactly why he is considered one the best goalies in the world. During the match, #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave took off on Twitter and searches for the goalie spiked on Google.
Here is a look at how mentions of Howard spiked on Twitter:
On Google, searches of Howard increased by a factor of 144.
Howard’s record number of saves also made many wonder what else he could save, and #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave was born. Here are some of the highlights of those posts:
Tim Howard for president!
Howard’s performance also made some think he could potentially run the country.
For a little while, Howard was also named US Secretary of Defense.
A White House petition was also created in an effort to change the name of Washington National Airport to Tim Howard National Airport.
At 35 years old, it is unclear if Howard will be back for the next World Cup in 2018 (he will be 39 then). But for now, Tim Howard, a very proud nation thanks you for a great run.