The former Everton goalkeeper produced two saves in a penalty shootout to help Pablo Mastroeni's men clinch a spot in the Western Conference finals.
Tim Howard was the hero for the Colorado Rapids in Sunday’s MLS Cup playoff matchup against the LA Galaxy, producing two saves in a penalty shootout to see his side through to the Western Conference finals for the first time since they took home the title in 2010.
The Galaxy went into the second leg at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a 1-0 lead on aggregate after the previous weekend’s meeting, but a stunning 36th-minute strike from Rapids playmaker Shkelzen Gashi brought the series level.
Neither team was able to find a deciding goal over the rest of the 90 minutes or during extra-time, however, meaning the semi-final tie would have to be settled by a shootout.
Steven Gerrard promptly converted the visitors’ first effort, but Giovani dos Santos blazed their next attempt over the bar before Ashley Cole and Jeff Larentowciz had their strikes saved by Howard.
With the Rapids making all of their first three spot-kicks, that proved enough to send them through to the next round, where they will face off against the Seattle Sounders for a place in the 2016 MLS Cup final.
“Obviously it was a really emotional game,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told MLSSoccer.com following the win. “Having left LA 1-0 down, we were in a really good position to play here at home. We stuck to our game plan which was not conceding at home and bringing the altitude into play.”
With both Colorado and the Galaxy struggling to produce much in the final third on Sunday, most of the headlines following the match were unsurprisingly focused on Howard’s heroics.
The announcement of the 37-year-old American’s signing back in March was initially met with some criticism due to his struggles at Everton and the fact that spending Designated Player money on a goalkeeper is rarely seen as a wise investment, but he has been steadily silencing the doubters since officially linking up with the Rapids when the MLS summer transfer window opened in early July.
The former MetroStars ace kept seven clean sheets in 17 appearances over the second half of the regular season, as well as saving three of the seven penalties he faced, while he was also named as one of the three finalists for the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award last week – albeit to the surprise of many fans and media figures.
After seeing his form decline dramatically during his last 18 months at Goodison Park, the move back to the States certainly seems to have reinvigorated the 110-times capped international, and things got even better following Sunday’s match when US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann named him as the team’s starter over Brad Guzan for their upcoming World Cup qualifier against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio.
Klinsmann had been rotating the pair since Howard returned from a year-long international sabbatical in September 2015, but after being the backup for the Copa America Centenario this past summer, the ex-Manchester United man's recent performances in MLS appear to have earned him the No. 1 job back.
“He’s just a real team presence, team guy, that wants to win more than anything else,” Mastroeni added to MLSSoccer.com when asked about Howard’s impact since arriving in Colorado. “That’s the kind of people that we want at this club. People who are willing to give up themselves for the greater good.
“He brings a lot more than his performance on the field. What he exudes as a human being has been transformational to the group. It extends beyond the importance in the shootout. It’s been really what he’s brought to the group from a leadership perspective. For me, he’s still one of the best ‘keepers in the world.”
Sunday’s win certainly went a long way towards justifying Colorado’s decision to splash out on Howard’s signature, and if the veteran stopper ultimately goes on to help the club clinch their second MLS Cup title, it is hard to imagine there will be many people left complaining about his hefty DP salary.