JOHANNESBURG, South Africa It was all about goalie Tim Howard, an outspoken Christian, during the U.S. team's World Cup opening match against England on June 12. The game ended in a 1-1 tie.
In spite of a first-half injury to the ribs that left him in excruciating pain, Howard managed to stay on the field and ward off England's continuous attacks throughout the remainder of the game, a feat that earned him the "Man of the Match" title.
While thwarting an attempted goal 36 minutes into the match, Howard was kicked in the ribs by England's Emile Heskey. The injury left him writhing in agony at a time his team was down 0-1.
"It felt like agony," Howard said. "I knew Heskey was going to slide in, and he had every right to that ball, the same as I did. You just leave yourself exposed when you're at full stretch, and he came in and caught me just under my chest and my ribs."
Team trainers feared Howard's ribs were broken, but doctors confirmed two days later that they are severely bruised.
"I was hurting and sore [during the game]," Howard said. "I'll be even more sore the next couple days." But it is anticipated that Howard will be able to start against Slovenia on June 18.
England scored in the fourth minute, while the U.S. appeared on the scoreboard after 40 minutes of play. Both teams seemed to slow down toward the end of the match to accept a draw rather than risk a loss.
A winning team earns three points, while a losing team gets none. In a draw, both teams earn one point. In the first round of the World Cup, the two teams in each group that earn the most points proceed to the next round.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley said: "It's important for us to still come away with a point. It's a difficult way to start, but I felt the response from the team was strong and there are good things we can take away from the match."
Howard was happy about his team's performance. "Once we calmed down and got into the flow of the game, I thought we did well," he said. "Defensively we did our job; it was backs to the wall and, overall, it wasn't pretty. [England was] always going to have their fair share of possession, but we defended, made some saves. Guys were diving in and we were just trying to stay organized, but I'm happy overall."
This is Howard's second World Cup. He served as backup goalie for the U.S. squad in 2006. Now he's starting.
In an exclusive interview with Baptist Press, Howard talked about his Christian faith. "I'm certainly just a vehicle for Christ," he said, "and He moves me and the Spirit moves me in miraculous ways that's from dealing with Tourette's syndrome to the pressures playing on a level like this and in England in the Premiere League. I just try to rely on faith.
"I'm not perfect," he said, "I'm far from it and that is the reason I do need Jesus. I try to live it.... I stumble, as many people do, but always in the belief that I'm loved and that I'm meaningful."
For the first 10 years of his life, Howard suffered with an undiagnosed case of Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by physical and verbal tics.
"I did not experience peace," he said in a testimony published by Christian organization Athletes in Action. "But even though my life often seemed chaotic, I knew I could always count on at least one person to provide calm and stability: my grandmother. Nana's sense of peace was so powerful because it came from her faith in the Lord. Through her, God revealed His love for me as well. It wasn't long before I was following in her footsteps. I wanted the same kind of faith and peace she had, and that is exactly what God gave me."
Howard said living with Tourette's is not easy. "But God has blessed me with the gift of athleticism as well," he said. "He has done some powerful things in my life through the combination of these two gifts.... He also has shown me ways to use my position as a professional athlete to encourage others with Tourette's syndrome."
In 2001, at the age of 22, Howard became the youngest winner of U.S. Major League Soccer's "Goalkeeper of the Year" award. Two years later he was signed by Manchester United in the English Premiere League. He now plays for Everton in the same league.
"Today, I am blessed to be living a dream," Howard said. "And yet, if it all went away tomorrow, I know I would still have peace. That probably sounds crazy to most people, but that's the kind of peace Christ gives. It is rooted in His love, and it surpasses all understanding."