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Howard Making It Tough on Galaxy

Soccer: MetroStar goalkeeper, who has Tourette's syndrome, has been on a remarkable run.

September 29, 2001|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The busiest man in Pasadena today is likely to be a fellow named Tim Howard.

Howard plays goalkeeper for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars. It's his job to keep the ball out of the net, something he accomplishes by throwing himself around like a rag doll in a hurricane.

Trying to make Howard's job impossible this afternoon will be the Galaxy, which will be seeking to put the ball into the net as often and from as many angles as possible.

The Los Angeles players have no other option.

"We've kind of narrowed down exactly what we have to do tomorrow," Alexi Lalas said Friday, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "After a lot of conversation and discussion, we've figured out what has to be done."

It comes down to one word: Win.

After squandering a boatload of scoring chances in Game 1 of Major League Soccer's playoffs, the Galaxy had to settle for a 1-1 tie. Not good.

In Game 2, the Galaxy mistakenly tried to sit on a one-goal lead for 86 minutes and ended up losing, 4-1. Definitely bad.

Now the Galaxy's MLS season is on the line--Howard's goal line.

This has been a remarkable year for the 22-year-old from North Brunswick, N.J. He started it as the backup goalkeeper to Mike Ammann and finished it as the MetroStars' most valuable player.

That was on the field. Off the field, he revealed that, since he was 10, he has been diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary jerking motions and uncontrollable vocal sounds.

Howard's case is relatively mild, hardly noticeable and does not affect his playing ability. But since revealing in April that he has the disorder, he has gone out of his way to speak about it and support others, particularly children, who have the same condition.

The best way to do so is by playing well, he figures, and Howard has enjoyed an exceptional season. In his first year as a starter, he led the league in saves with 146.

"That's an expression of his ability as a goalkeeper, but it also means they're giving up shots," said Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid, searching for positives in a bleak week. "We just have to turn some of those saves into goals."

According to Des McAleenan, the MetroStars' goalkeeping coach, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Howard's ability extends far beyond stopping shots.

"He's got phenomenal natural athleticism, combined with very, very sure handling," McAleenan said. "He's got great hands. I think the key to his performance this year has been his mind-blowing consistency. He has rarely given up a bad goal all season.

"He has what I would call the X factor, something you can't put your hand on. He just gets in the way of the ball. We can throw out all the technical jargon you want, but he basically makes saves when he needs to make saves. It's something you can't teach. Some of what he does is unorthodox and quite unique. I think that's what makes him special."

Howard was the keeper who qualified the United States for last year's Sydney Olympics, then had to step aside when U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Friedel was brought in for the Games.

Howard's response was an eye-opener to one fellow Olympian, Galaxy midfielder Peter Vagenas.

"He never sulked," Vagenas said. "The starting job was his and he did nothing to lose it, but they brought in a world-class goalkeeper. The one thing I'll remember is that he didn't once gripe about it. He looked at it as an opportunity to train along with one of the best keepers in the world, and he held his own."

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