High Five Tim Howard
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THE HIGH FIVE: Tim Howard, MLS pay scale on goalkeepers, Eddie Johnson and more

Steve Davis' weekly column, drilling down on five hot topics in American soccer

1. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard in the news and … on the move?

Last week’s reports that Colorado was racing down the road in a high-dollar pursuit of longtime U.S. international Tim Howard could have been written off as just a little brush fire in the maelstrom of silly season transfer news and speculation.

But this week when the Rapids traded goalkeeper Clint Irwin, the club’s starting goalkeeper of the last three years, to Toronto, that acted as accelerant on the story; this was no little brush fire anymore.

So if it wasn’t time to have these discussions before, it’s certainly time now: At 36 years old, is the time right for Howard to move back into MLS? How effective can he be? And is Colorado the right spot? 

Let’s start here: Is Howard having a so-so year at Everton? Probably. His level of performance has certainly drifted around Goodison Park lately – but there’s a lot to consider, and the man hasn’t been awful.

See, Premier League goalkeepers are judged on a (sometimes ridiculously) high standard.

They dwell in this land that traditionally prides itself in goalkeeping, even if the game’s best ‘keepers of the last two decades have not necessarily come from England (think Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon and Peter Schmeichel, none of whom were British). In fact, an organization called the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (yeah, I had never heard of this thing either) has named a world’s top goalkeeper since 1987; it has never gone to an English ‘keeper. Still, the narrative prevails, so it is what it is.

There are plenty of high quality goalkeepers in the Premier League. Have you seen some of the saves delivered by Manchester United’s David de Gea, who looks like Spain’s No. 1 for year and years to come? Czech Republic’s Petr Cech is enjoying a second career life at Arsenal, where his wits and sensational shot-stopping are huge parts of why Arsenal sits atop the current EPL table.

At Stoke City, 22-year-old Jack Butland looks like a guy who could take his place among some of the former England goalkeeping greats. He’s been sensational this year.

Here’s the point: Howard earns his pay in a land that traditionally holds its backstoppers to a grand standard, and fair enough. So you have to filter any sentiment of “Howard not having a good year.” Because if you judge Howard by mortal standards – a lot of this can be said about fellow American Brad Guzan at Aston Villa, too – his year at Everton has not been alarmingly poor. Has it been his best? Certainly not, but it has hardly been bankrupt of quality, especially when you consider that pedestrian defense in front of him.

All of this is to say, Howard would still be a wonderful man to have between the sticks. If salary or developmental aims aren’t part of the conversation, he could walk into camp tomorrow and be the immediate starter at pretty much every MLS club.

2. Is Colorado the right team for Howard?

Denver is a lovely place, isn’t it? They’ve scrubbed up that Rocky Mountain air in recent years. There is a bustling downtown scene these days. The Broncos are certainly having a great season!

MLS-wise? Well … let’s go with “things could be better.”

Everyone knows the Rapids aren’t a model MLS franchise, although they do have one fairly recent MLS title (2010). But they haven’t made the playoffs in three of the last four years (and exited quickly in that one run of post-season soccer, in 2013.) The team can’t quite find the magic carpet that flies fans scurrying regularly toward the swell stadium in nearby Commerce City.

And for the life of me, I simply cannot identify what the soccer deciders are trying to do roster-construction wise. The decisions coming out of there continue to baffle, as that heralded bunch of exciting young up-and-comers assembled under Oscar Pareja in 2012 and 2013 is pretty much gone.

Colorado finished last in the West in 2015, and it certainly doesn’t take Pep Guardiola to figure out why: the Rapids couldn’t score goals. Their season total of 33 was easily last in the 20-team league.

They always looks solid enough defensively, generally tough to beat. So the offseason looked like a fine time to go kidnap a creative midfielder and another quality striker (and probably another connecting or holding midfielder, too).

What do they do? They trade away their top defender of the last seven years (Drew Moor). And they jettison Irwin. Of course they did.

Perhaps they needed more leadership overall; Howard can certainly provide that.  And while Irwin wasn’t bad, he is no Tim Howard. So, yes, “T-Ho” is an upgrade between the sticks.

Still, if you’re Howard – a man with so much on your illustrious resume, and yet not much in the way of team trophies – perhaps you had better think long and hard about this.

3. Highly paid goalkeepers usually aren’t a match for MLS

There is one more potential impediment at work here: Major League Soccer’s typical salary structure.

Simply put, teams don’t spend lavishly on goalkeepers. It has always been too easy to fill the position without breaking the bank. It’s about supply and demand, really; the United States has always faithfully produced good goalkeepers in bunches, and the occasional world class model like Howard, Guzan, Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, to name the most recent top cops in U.S. goal.

Generally speaking, team officials’ knees go wobbly once they think about spending north of about $250,000 for a goalkeeper. That’s about what Keller made in 2011, the year he retired from soccer as a Seattle Sounder. A few others have drifted in and around the 250K mark: Chicago’s Sean Johnson, Dallas’ Dan Kennedy, Portland’s Adam Kwarasey, LA’s Donovan Ricketts and Vancouver’s David Ousted all resided in that neighborhood in 2015. Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando and DC United’s Bill Hamid, both at scale skewing $360,000 base salaries, were Major League Soccer’s highest gloved earners in 2015.

To the point, plenty of MLS starting ‘keepers made substantially less. MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Luis Robles, was one of them, for instance. His base was $130,000 according to annually reported MLS Players Union figures.

The point is this: Teams can generally be spendthrifts on goalkeepers and be just fine. You can save the DP spots and the DP cash for strikers and creators. (Heck, precious few clubs even pay DP salaries for defenders, much less ‘keepers.)

Howard would almost certainly require a DP designation. On this week’s ESPN Soccer Today (disclosure: I co-host that show), Seattle Sounders GM said Howard or Guzan were probably worth breaking the typical MLS salary model. In some places I might agree. In Colorado, where they seem to need so much more than an outstanding goalkeeper, I’m not so sure that was the case.

4. Interesting remarks from Eddie Johnson

It was really interesting to see recently retired striker Eddie Johnson voicing support for U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann over the weekend.

Johnson had to retire prematurely from soccer in 2015, at age 30, due to an undisclosed medical condition. He participated in a charity match over the weekend in his home state, Florida. Afterward he told the The Mane Land that he was a big Klinsmann advocate. 

What he told The Mane Land (a blog devoted to Orlando City SC): "I think with his philosophy and his understanding of the game, it's important for our national team. I think our fans need to be a little more patient with what he's trying to build here in our country. I think he's done a really good job since he's taken over as coach in s turning the national team program around and I can only talk from experience as a player who has played under Jurgen Klinsmann."

Here’s what makes it particularly interesting: Johnson had reason to be upset with the U.S. manager. Don’t forget, Johnson was a surprise omission from the 2014 World Cup roster. While the manager chose to include Chris Wondolowski and untested Julian Green in his Brazilian bunch, Klinsmann declined to so much as put Johnson on the preliminary 30-man roster.

That caught plenty of us by surprise. Either way, Johnson apparently doesn’t hold grudges.

5. The Little Five

5a. St. Louis has lost its NFL team – a real bummer for the Midwest outpost. This has added more wind to the long-flying banner of St. Louis as an outstanding candidate for MLS expansion. Sure enough, a lot of us would love to see that happen, especially since expansion fever is epidemic now; MLS is mashing the pedal toward a 28-team league. But as we all talk about potential MLS cities and stadium projects (MLS fans do love talking “expansion” and “stadium projects,” don’t we?) a critical part of the equation has always come up missing here. Where is the owner? Major League Soccer is now choosey about owners, having learned from the Chivas USA debacle and others. This continues to hold St. Louis back.

5b. Look, I sincerely hope that DC United officials fulfill their quest to ensure that 2016 and 2017 are the club’s final seasons inside less-than-stately RFK Stadium. But when I hear that city officials are still “acquiring and preparing” land for its new stadium project and “hope” to turn it all over to DC United in 2016, well, call me a cynic. And those stadium renderings keep changing. Orlando City didn’t have one 1/15th of the trouble DC has in getting its stadium going, and they have already announced an extra year needed for completion; the Lions will begin in their new downtown ground in 2017 rather than 2016, as hoped. So, good luck United! But if you made me bet a buck on it, I might say they are more likely to open that new stadium in Buzzard Point in 2019.

5c. If MLS ever gets to the point where teams begin using other cities as leverage in stadium negotiations – think of the way NFL teams had long used Los Angeles for so long – there are already a couple of candidates to become the “LA of MLS.” Seems like Las Vegas and San Antonio could fill the bill. Both seem perennially perched around the edge of serious MLS expansion consideration. San Antonio is once again making serious noise. And here comes Las Vegas again.

5d. I mean, seriously, what was superstar Cristiano Ronaldo supposed to tell GQ when asked if he might one day grace MLS with his presence? When a U.S. based mega magazine asks the question, “Would you perhaps like to play in the major U.S. soccer league,” of course he’ll dangle it as a possibility. He certainly isn’t going to issue a dismissive “no way!” (Not even if he’s done it before.)

5e. U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones has a big decision, and there is a fascinating juxtaposition of salary theories at work. Jones, 34, wants one more long term deal. Generally speaking, 34-year-old midfielders don’t get long-term deals, especially not when they are facing a significant suspension! Here’s the kicker: Jones has always been one of Jurgen Klinsmann’s favorites, as we know. But Klinsmann has faulted the American sports culture for paying athletes based on what they have been, rather than what they are. So … wonder what Klinsmann would say about this one?

Steve Davis has covered Major League Soccer since is first kick in 1996. He writes on-line for World Soccer Talk and co-hosts the weekly radio show/podcast ESPN Soccer Today on 103.3 FM in Dallas. Davis is also the radio play-by-play voice for FC Dallas on 100.7 FM.