U.S. men's schedule, results
Manchester United fans want Howard to start in FA Cup final.
and Gary Davidson (in Washington, D.C.)
(Monday, May 17, 2004) -- United States goalkeeper Tim Howard continued his rebirth at Manchester United. Starting his fourth consecutive match after being benched, he turned in a wonderful 12-save performance, shutting out host Aston Villa 2-0 despite having two players sent off in the closing 15 minutes of the English Premier League match Saturday.
Now the speculation has begun as to who will start for United Saturday against Millwall in the FA Cup final -- Howard or Roy Carroll, his replacement for about a month.
"A win next week would help to put some of the season's disappointments behind us," Howard told Soccernet of not winning the Premier League and crashing out early from the European Champions League. "There was a sense of purpose about our performance on Saturday and we will need that again this weekend. Millwall may not be in the Premiership and they will turn up ready to compete on Saturday, whether they are the best players in the country or not."
In other Man. United news, American defender Jonathan Spector was named the club's best youth player.
United manager Alex Ferguson has called his decision on who to start in goal one of his toughest ever, ranking up there with his decision to drop Jim Leighton in favor of Les Sealey for a 1990 replay against Crystal Palace, and to omit Bryan Robson from the 1994 side that faced Chelsea.
United has not had a consistent presence in goal since Peter Schmeichel departed in 1999, but Ferguson now believes he has two keepers he can count on. "This decision is even worse than the one I had to make all those years ago (replacing Leighton with Sealey)," Ferguson said. "Both Tim and Roy have been terrific."
Man. U. fans opted for Howard in an unscientific poll on the club's web site. Of 29,947 votes cast, 55.3 percent chose Howard over Carroll.
In his first season with United, Howard, 25, has a 27-10-6 (.628) record in all competitions, conceding 41 goals (0.95 per game) and registering 16 clean sheets en route to being named the Premier League's best keeper by the Professional Footballer's Association. Twice named the goalkeeper on Major League Soccer's "Best XI," with the MetroStars, Howard had 10 shutouts in his first 15 appearances in his first United campaign, but suffered a midseason slump.
After giving up a bad rebound that led to the goal that allowed FC Porto of Portugal to eliminate United in the Champions League Round of 16 and being beaten four times in a 4-1 league loss to Manchester City, Howard was sent to the bench.
Howard, who was acquired before the season from the MetroStars for a reported $4 million transfer fee, credits his time on the bench as a positive. "The rest has definitely helped me," Howard told Soccernet. "No player will ever go to the manager and say he needs some time off, but I guess it is part of his job to know when players need a rest. He is a good man-manager and, whatever the motivation behind his decision, it has worked because I feel good now."
Howard admitted his play had slipped a bit at the time of his benching. "I knew there was a month to go before the (FA) Cup final and there were a lot of things to get through," he told Soccernet "I just needed to get my mind right and my body back together. For any player moving abroad, the first year is always difficult. I have learned a lot of things this season and hopefully the next one will be easier."
Carroll, 26, responded to the starting call with strong play in six matches, including defeating Premier League champion Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup semifinals. Carroll has lost just one league game since joining the team in 2001. In his three seasons, Carroll is 25-4-8 (.676), giving up 27 goals (0.73 per game) and posting 17 shutouts.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the fourth minute and Ruud van Nistelrooy for United to defeat Villa Saturday. Darren Fletcher was sent off in the 75th minute and Cristiano Ronaldo followed 10 minutes, leading to a late Villa flurry, but Howard did well to stop Gareth Barry's first-time shot.
Man. U. finished third at 23-9-6 with 75 points.
Spector played regularly for the United reserves this year, including a season-closing 3-1 victory over Manchester City Tuesday in the Manchester Senior Cup Final.
Another American, Kenny Cooper, a 6-foot-3 striker from Dallas scored twice in the match, giving him 15 goals in a season where he made remarkable strides and United closed with 11 straight victories.
In the 25th minute, Cooper slid to knock home a perfect cross from Kieran Richardson. In first-half injury time, Cooper cut inside two defenders before firing home a 15-yard left-footer off a quick counter-attack.
Spector, who signed with United last year from the Chicago Sockers, a semi-pro team in the U.S. fourth-division Premier Devlopment League, was solid on the back line.