LAKEWOOD RANCH -- If there's one thing America is known for on the world soccer stage, it's a penchant for churning out quality goalkeepers.
Tim Howard has joined the likes of Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller in a crop of keepers considered among the world's best.
Howard, who trained at IMG Academies years ago, returned to Manatee County to lead Premier Sports Campus director Tim Mulqueen and other instructors in the inaugural Complete Soccer Goalkeeper Academy featuring Tim Howard in Lakewood Ranch.
Mulqueen, who has known Howard for more than 20 years, said there were about 45 players representing 10 states participating.
"I equate to like if Kobe Bryant did a basketball camp, and he was actually going to be there," said Mulqueen, who was the goalkeeping coach for the USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "A guy who's at the height of his profession, who's experienced so many different things and was going to do a basketball camp, people would be like, 'Oh my God.' And not Kobe Bryant showing up for a day, shooting a couple shots and leaving, but actually being on the court and giving the nuances of the position."
Howard's credentials speak for themselves. Aside from his duties as the United States starting keeper, Howard plays in the English Premier League for Everton F.C. and formerly played for Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world.
His distribution to Landon Donovan started the sequence that resulted in the goal that beat Algeria and sent the U.S. to the knockout phase of the 2010 World Cup. Americans' jubilant reaction to that goal became a YouTube sensation.
He also made headlines
with a goal from his own penalty area that bounced over Bolton's Adam Bogdan in a Premier League match at Everton's Goodison Park last January.
So it's no surprise that campers received quite a treat in learning the intricacies of the keeper position from Howard.
"You can't reinvent the position," said Howard, who has made 224 appearances for Everton and has played in every Premier League match for the Toffees since 2008-09. "Having said that ... myself and Tim Mulqueen firmly believe that there are small, little details within the game of goalkeeping that make the great goalkeepers great. Because they are able to do those small, little things every time out."
And that's why Howard is considered a world-class keeper with the likes of Spain's Iker Casillas, Germany's Manuel Neuer and Italy's Gianluigi Buffon.
Manatee High rising freshman Chris Morrish, whose cousin, Shannon, is off to Vanderbilt after a stellar keeping career at Saint Stephen's and IMG, noticed the way Howard handles himself between the posts and plans on using that in his own game.
"Just being relaxed, not being too tense," the 14-year-old said. "Just being relaxed, but not too relaxed."
In Tuesday's night session, Howard demonstrated how to cut off the angle on goal by positioning his body away from the net. The campers copied the skill.
It's hard to explain why the U.S. produces world-class goalkeepers, but Mulqueen pointed out that American kids grow up on sports like basketball, baseball and football, which require strong hand-eye coordination.
"It's hard to put your finger on it," Howard said. "Not many other countries play as many hand-eye coordinated sports that we do as kids. And so then you get to the higher level and that's what you have to have as a top-level goalkeeper. And so we have that from the time we are 5 and 6 playing T-Ball, basketball, whatever it is. So it certainly lends to that. I also think Americans, and this might be biased, I think American athletes are built for the position of goalkeeper. I think you need to be powerful, explosive, good body, be agile."
There were 45 keepers ranging in age that got the chance to learn from Howard, and the plan is to make the camp an annual thing at Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus.
Who knows? Perhaps a future American star keeper was there learning from the country's current goalkeeping standout.