As the US Men’s National Team prepared to head to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, goalkeeper Tim Howard also had his mind on video games. In the days before the tournament, Howard was out promoting Kickoff Countdown, a soccer-themed character from Skylanders SWAP Force.
It might seem strange that the starting netminder for the USMNT would be talking video games at this moment. But Skylanders is a favorite game in the Howard household. Howard plays it with his kids Jacob and Alivia, and combing it with soccer provides a great connection for the family — and a chance for the kids to call the shots.
“I don’t really get much say,” Howard says. “They boss me around and pick the characters!”
Today, Howard will lead the US team in its first game of the tournament, against Ghana. It’s his third World Cup, and the first one his kids will attend. And even though they’re excited to watch their dad in action, Jacob and Alivia will have their eyes on another player.
“They’re looking forward to seeing [Real Salt Lake midfielder] Kyle Beckerman and his dreadlocks,” Howard said.
Howard is looking forward to the energy in the World Cup stadiums and playing in the intense, exciting atmosphere of soccer-crazed Brazil. It’s also a chance for Howard to bring some veteran experience to a changing US men’s roster. It’s a “really cool mix of guys,” he says. It includes other seasoned pros like DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey, as well up-and-comers like 19-year-old Julian Green.
“It’s our job to kind of steer the ship and be the pulse of the team,” Howard said.
While there's a lot of the teaching and development happening between games, not all of it involves a soccer ball or running. With several members whose native language is not English, Howard explained that one team experience has involved a bit of singing.
“We just told some of the boys who don’t know the full Star-Spangled Banner that we’re going to teach it to them,” Howard said. “So I’m sure at some point we’ll have a cool, funny sing along to the Star-Spangled Banner.”
The experienced core of the team has a big task ahead of them: Leading the squad through Group G, better known as the Group of Death. In the group matches, the United States will face Ghana, Portugal, and Germany.
The Americans meet Portugal on Sunday in the second game of group play. And what seemed like a tough game got a little easier today: Portugal star defender Pepe was given a red card after headbutting a German player, which means Pepe will be out for the game against the US.
“Right now the focus is on us,” Howard says of the US team. “No matter what group we were drawn into, that would’ve been the case.”
For more World Cup coverage, check out SI Kids' Guide to the 2014 World Cup!
Photo: Julio Cortez/AP Photo