America’s goalkeeper: How 901 FC sporting director Tim Howard got his big break

Updated: Jan. 30, 2020 at 9:51 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Soccer legend Tim Howard made a name for himself on the international sports stage, and now he’s scoring big for the Bluff City.

Before calling Memphis home, the world famous soccer player became one of America’s most decorated stars, leading Team USA to new heights during his storied career.

Howard’s glory days are just memories now, retiring after the 2019 season. His new job is simple: Defend Memphis.

“I thought I’d like it, but I love it,” he said. “It’s intense. It’s every day we’re putting out fires, having successes, and it seems very similar to what playing was like.”

Howard is the newly-named sporting director for Memphis 901 FC, and he’s thrilled to finally live full time in a city that’s so close to his heart.

“I’ve had a home here since 2003, and my off seasons have been very short,” he said. “To b able to build a sports franchise in this city is pretty special to me. Obviously soccer is who I am, and with Memphis now being home, the synergy is incredible."

But this Jersey boy’s rise to international stardom started small.

Howard says his passion for the pitch began when he was a little kid, and he admits he drove his mom nuts.

“I was a terror,” said Howard.

He says once he got old enough to play organized sports, his mom laid down the law.

“(She said) you gotta do something,” said Howard. “So I said ‘I don’t know, I guess soccer’. I remember from the day I started playing, 6 years old, I loved it. It’s always a place that gave me joy and peace. I just remember from a young age, when my games would get canceled because of rain I would cry."

Howard’s skills quickly caught the attention of pro scouts, and when the time came to make the leap straight out of high school to Major League Soccer, mom knew best.

“All my friends were going off to college and I spent a few nights crying with my mom even though I was 18 like I wanna go to college,” said Howard. “She always kind of kept me on the straight and narrow, she believed in my ability and just said, ‘you know, this is going to work out'. And it did and I was thankful I was able to listen to her and have her guidance.”

Howard made it in the U.S. But what was the big break that landed him on the biggest football club in the world, Manchester United, and made him a global star?

“That’s a very simple answer,” he said. “I played for the Metro Stars in MLS and I played maybe one season as a starting goal keeper and literally the biggest club in the world in world futbol decided that I had enough, that they wanted to scout me, sign me, pay money for me and do all the work that it took to get me over there. So I went from zero to 100 in probably about two weeks, and that was 1,000 percent my big break.”

He says it was hard work mixed with a little bit of luck that put him in the right spot to make the leap.

“It was completely down to hard work and determination and this desire that I was going to be great, and probably I don’t know if I’ve ever achieved it or if I will ever achieve perfection, but you have to at least believe you can do it,” he said.

That whirlwind ride to the top is told in pictures all over his body.

“Literally covered head to toe,” he said. “It’s very personal, I’ve got my life story on my body.”

While Howard’s tattoos are quite visible, his struggle with a neurological disorder is not. He was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at age 10, but he says he didn’t let the tics get him down.

Now the 40-year-old soccer sensation is helping kids with TS through “Howard’s Heroes.”

"When he’s not signing autographs or snapping pictures with “Howard’s Heroes,” he’s busy kicking it with his two kids.

Howard says his son is an incredible athlete, but instead of a soccer ball he’s chasing a dream in the music industry. You can catch his daughter on the hardwood and the pitch. And he says she has “it.”

“She better, she ain’t got no choice,” he said. “But no, honestly, she has a drive and passion for the game that I think is important. I think skill is something you develop over time, but you can’t really teach that passion, and she has it.”

So what does Howard have to say to all the other soccer moms and dads about the game that made him a legend?

“It’s the greatest sport,” he said.

Do you know someone whose had a big break? Email and tell us about your story.

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