- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tim Howard is continuing a proud tradition. American soccer has long produced talented goalies, and Howard is another homegrown example in the mold of Tony Meola, Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller.

The 29-year-old, who plays for Everton in the English Premier League, likely will be in the net when the United States takes on Cuba in World Cup qualifying at RFK Stadium on Saturday.

The game is an opportunity for the 6-foot-3 keeper to earn the U.S. team’s record seventh straight shutout. That run includes five shutouts in the team’s World Cup qualifying games this year, in which Howard played in three games. The way things are going, the North Brunswick, N.J., native is on track to start for the U.S. team at the 2010 World Cup at South Africa.

“The goalie is only as good as his back four,” Howard said. “When the back is clicking, like we are, it makes my job easy.”

Beginning with Meola, who started in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, the U.S. team has produced an uninterrupted chain of solid keepers. After Meola came Friedel (1998 and 2002 World Cups) and Keller (1998 and 2006 World Cups), who both went onto play for major overseas clubs.

“It was nice to have someone to look up to and emulate,” said Howard, who has played 34 games for the team while earning 15 shutouts. “They have done some great things in the game and set the benchmark for us to reach.”

Friedel, 37, along with American Brad Guzan - who is backing up Howard on the U.S. team - hold the top two goalie spots, respectively, at EPL club Aston Villa. Meola, 39, plays with the indoor New Jersey Ironmen, and Keller, 38, will be playing for the Seattle Sounders in MLS next year.

Howard signed with Manchester United from the MetroStars for $4 million in 2003. After three seasons with the EPL giants, he joined Everton in 2006. While life on the national team has been smooth for Howard, his club is going through a tough run after coming in fifth in the league last season.

The Liverpool-based club lies in 15th spot in the EPL and last week got knocked out of the UEFA Cup by Belgium club Standard Liege. U.S. starting defender Oguchi Onyewu, a native of Olney, Md., helped the Belgium team down Everton.

Notes - Forward Landon Donovan will try to add to his all-time record of 36 goals in the U.S. jersey. Donovan has played in 24 World Cup qualifiers and has scored a record eight goals. …

The No. 21 FIFA-ranked U.S. team can book a place in the final round of qualifying with a win against 98th-ranked Cuba. The Americans command Group A with nine points from three wins and are looking to advance to the six-team final qualifying round, where they likely would face Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and either Guatemala or Trinidad and Tobago. …

This is the first World Cup qualifying game at RFK since the U.S. beat Panama 6-0 on Oct. 13, 2004. The U.S. team didn’t play at RFK once the Washington Nationals moved into the venue in 2005.

RFK has hosted a number of riveting performances by the Americans, including a 4-0 win over Mexico in 1995 and a 1-0 win over Argentina in 1999. The U.S. team has played 17 games at the venue since 1977, posting a 10-3-4 record, including a 3-1-1 record in World Cup qualifying.

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