The United States Men’s National Team may have entered their 2014 World Cup Round of 16 match against Belgium as the underdog, but they were a team that was confident that they could pull off the upset and advance to the quarterfinals. On July 1, 2014, the Yanks and the Red Devils met in Salvador with a date in the quarterfinals against Argentina on the line. The two teams were scheduled to meet in an unofficial friendly in São Paulo as the World Cup was set to begin, but it was canceled due to traffic concerns around the opening match.
Tim Howard was the American goalkeeper tasked with keeping the Belgian attack under wraps, and to that point he had been effective for the United States. Little did anyone know how effective he would be for the USMNT on that day.
The Belgians dominated throughout the match, but thanks to Tim Howard, it was scoreless at the end of the first half. Tim Howard had 3 spectacular saves in that half. In the second half, the Belgians teed off on the Americans. Still, Howard was all over the place. He had 8 saves in the 2nd half, and the Americans almost stole the match at the death. However, Chris Wondolowski’s point blank shot went over the bar to keep the score deadlocked at 0-0.
The teams would go to extra time, and soon after, Belgium finally broke through, scoring two in the first extra time period courtesy of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Tim Howard had 3 more saves in that time, but Belgium’s attack was just too much for the American defense. At the start of the second extra time period, Julian Green brought the USMNT one goal closer to forcing penalties, and Tim Howard added yet another save. Clint Dempsey almost equalized for the Americans late, but it was not enough. The USMNT ultimately fell to Belgium 2-1, ending their 2014 World Cup campaign.
However, despite the Belgians winning, the story was Tim Howard’s performance. He ended the match with 15 saves, the most ever in a World Cup match. After the match, fans around the country and the world called Howard a hero despite the loss. On Wikipedia, fans even named him as America’s Secretary of Defense on the main Wikipedia page:
That joke prompted a call from the actual Secretary of Defense at the time, Chuck Hagel, who commended Howard on his performance and joked about his new title.
The 2014 World Cup campaign for the USMNT was one that will be memorable for many reasons, but above all will be Tim Howard standing on his head, doing whatever he could to keep the ball out of the net and keep the USMNT in Brazil. Ultimately, he fell short, but that doesn’t stop his performance from being one of the greatest in American soccer history.
For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.