There are six finalists for U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year. We make the case for every nominee: Jermaine Jones was the midfield engine, while Kyle Beckerman brought it all together and Clint Dempsey is not just the captain, but the goalscorer too. Then there is Mr. Everything, Fabian Johnson and Mr. Consistency, Alejandro Bedoya.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. SIXTEEN!
That is how many saves Tim Howard made in the United States round of 16 match against Belgium, a World Cup record. Consider that: Howard set a record for most prolific match by a goalkeeper in the history of the biggest sporting event on the planet.
Howard earned the plaudits of his coaches and teammates, of opposing coaches and teammates, of fans and pundits, of soccer moms and the President of the United States. Everyone who watched the match was in awe of arguably the best individual performance of the entire World Cup.
The U.S. has some great moments in Brazil, from John Brooks' winner against Ghana, to Jermaine Jones' stunner against Portugal, to the realization that the team has progressed to the point that making the knockout stage isn't enough anymore. But the one moment that will stand above them all, and go into U.S. Soccer lore, was actually 16 moments, or saves, on July 1. And they were all by Howard.
Aside from his remarkable match, Howard also turned in a good three group stage matches. His defense hung him out to dry more than Jurgen Klinsmann would have liked, but he was there to bail them out. He showed more competency coming off his line than ever before, was the unquestioned leader of the defense and then meshed that with his always-phenomenal shot stopping ability. No American player was as good as Howard in Brazil.
On top of that, Howard also helped lead Everton to their best finish in nearly a decade. The whole team raised them game and shined, Howard included, and the Toffees finished higher in the the Premier League than any other American's team in a top European league.
Howard decided to take a year-long break from the U.S. after the World Cup, so he missed the team's last five matches of the year. That is five matches in which other candidates for U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year could make their case for the award, and do so unopposed. They could make it an award for the entire year, not just the first seven months.
But when you think back on the year, the last five matches don't come to mind. There was nothing spectacular. There was nothing remarkable.
The spectacular, remarkable and memorable was done in June in July. It was done at the World Cup. It was done by Tim Howard.