Howard's heroics see Everton defeat Manchester United, advance to the FA Cup final

It's not often that Tim Howard is overcome with emotion to the point where he cries, especially when soccer is involved. The veteran goalkeeper has seen just about every situation there is to see in the sport. The ups. The downs. The good. The bad. The ugly. There was one moment, however. Howard was surrounded by his Everton teammates inside of a Wembley Stadium locker room when he couldn't hold back.

The year was 2009. Everton, the club Howard moved to full time in 2007 following his stint with Manchester United, was making a run in the FA Cup. After beating Macclesfield, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, the Blues had just one team standing in their path to reach the FA Cup Final and they were two wins away from hoisting one of England's most storied trophies. Waiting for the Toffees in the semifinals was none other than Howard’s former team, the mighty Manchester United. Among the top two or three teams on the planet at the time, the Red Devils were heavily favored in the match. For Everton, this would be their first trip to Wembley since the 1995 Charity Shield, and they were determined to make the most of it.

“I felt sure that Manchester United, and all their supporters, thought they knew exactly what was going to happen in that game,” Howard wrote in his autobiography, The Keeper. “Somehow, they didn’t seem to expect much of a fight.”

 


 

Photo Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien

 


 

Howard and the Everton defense were able to hold the game scoreless for 90 minutes of regular time and 30 minutes of extra time. It would take a penalty shootout to determine who would play for in the FA Cup Final. While shootouts can cause goalkeeper's (and fans, and penalty takers) to lose their cool, Howard remained calm and confident.  

“The chips are stacked against you as a goalkeeper, but I still like my chances,” Howard said. “I’ll still go into every penalty shootout, even though I haven’t won them all, thinking, ‘This could be the day.’ I’m not trying to be the hero per se, but I’ll think ‘I’ve got this. I can save a few.’”

Howard's teammate, Tim Cahill would be the first player to take a penalty at the end of the field in front of the United supporters. The Australian striker sent the first penalty kick of the night soaring over the bar, sinking to his knees in disbelief the second the ball came off of his foot.

 


 

Photo Credit: Action Images / John Sibley
Photo Credit: Action Images / Carl Recine

 


 

"In that moment, I think they (United fans) truly thought they had it," Howard said.

While the sea of red erupted, Evertonians feared the worst as United's forward Dimitar Berbatov stepped up to take his penalty.

“I had gone through and studied all of the players and their tendencies before the game,” Howard said. “But you never know on the day. Some of the worlds most talented players twelve yards away could do anything they want.”

The 30-year-old goalkeeper guessed correctly and made a massive save to deny Berbatov and give his side a lifeline. The next challenger for United was Howard’s former teammate, Rio Ferdinand. His powerful shot was also saved by a diving Howard. 

“I made a save on my former teammate, Rio Ferdinand,” Howard said. “I have a picture of the moment I went right and saved his shot with my left foot.”

 


 

Photo Credit: Action Images / Carl Recine

 


 

Leighton Baines, Phil Neville and James Vaughan all converted their penalties for Everton, while Nemanja Vidić and Anderson responded for United.

The tally was 3-2 when Everton defender, Phil Jagielka, showed nerves of steel and calmly slotted home the decisive penalty, sending the blue side of Wembley into delirium.  

“I just remember running the length of the pitch towards the blue half of the stadium,” Howard said. “It was a pretty special moment.”

Howard made it about 15 yards from the goal area before being wrestled to the ground by his teammates in front of 88,141 fans, the highest-attended FA Cup semifinal in the storied tournament's history.

“It was the best kind of mayhem,” Howard wrote in The Keeper. “Guys were throwing themselves on top of me. Tugging and hugging, and piling on.”

 


 

Photo Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien

 


 

The win over United catapulted Everton through to the FA Cup Final for the first time in 14 years. However, as the team returned to their locker room to celebrate, Howard wasn’t yet thinking about the next match, but rather that he had just helped topple the mighty Manchester United inside one of the game's most hallowed theaters. 

“I tossed my towel over my head to wipe the sweat from my face," Howard wrote. "But instead of removing the towel, I left it there. I sat for a moment in the dark, amid all of the cheers and whoops of my celebrating teammates. Before I understood what was happening, I clutched the towel to my face and began sobbing.”

Everton would go on to lose 2-1 in the Final to Chelsea, but it was Howard’s heroics that made headlines in England. It was a performance that began to cement the American's reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

 


 

Photo Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien

 


 

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