USA Today got ahold of Tim Howard, and for some reason he decided to criticize a number of his United States Men’s National Team teammates as lacking sufficient passion for their country:
“What I think (Bruce Arena) will add is this ability to truly believe in the shirt and I think we lost that a little bit over the last couple of years,” Howard said, referring to Klinsmann’s replacement.
“I think it slips away because you bring in …,” Howard began, before pausing for thought. “Jurgen Klinsmann had a project to unearth talent around the world that had American roots. But having American roots doesn’t mean you are passionate about playing for that country.”
“I know there were players that came in that it didn’t matter as much to,” Howard said. “If you get enough of those players, one or two can get found out, but if you get enough of those players you lose sight of what you are all about. While it was a good idea in theory, it had its flaws. Bruce will 100% get that back.”
Howard’s comments are of a kind to those recently made by both Abby Wambach and Landon Donovan. But while Wambach generally has bad opinions, and Donovan has an obvious bone to pick with former USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann, Howard is a current USMNT member with no known beeves. His firsthand assessment of his teammates’ effort levels, therefore, deserve at least a modicum of consideration.
But not much more than that.
In criticizing Klinsmann’s attempts to convince players eligible to play for other nations to choose the United States—mostly German- and Mexican-Americans, but plenty of other dual-nationals as well—Howard said “having American roots doesn’t mean you are passionate about playing for that country.”
This is undoubtedly true, but it is also true that being born in America and living your entire life there doesn’t necessarily make you passionate about playing for your country either. Many of the USMNT’s dual-nationals are such because their fathers served in the U.S. military—demonstrating a certain amount of pride in their country—and they had to make the conscious decision to play for the USMNT, unlike American born-and-bred players who have no other option.
If there’s a lack of effort, it’s by no means limited to the dual nationals. Brek Shea’s perceived indifference is a big part of why he is no longer on the USMNT and flamed out of the Premier League, and Jozy Altidore (and the mostly American-born MLSers) were perpetually criticized for not working hard enough under Klinsmann.
Spiritually, Howard’s criticism belongs in 1970s or 1980s England, with its implicit belief that heart and spirit more so than strategy and ability are enough to win sporting events, or that things like personal pride or the desire to transfer to a better club team can’t be sufficient motivators. But to whatever degree the USMNT is being held back by a supposed lack of passion, it pales in importance when compared to the actual reason the USMNT loses games, and the same reason it’s enthusiastically recruiting dual-nationals: a lack of talent.
Anyway, when Howard stopped by the January USMNT camp earlier this week, I wonder if he made these same comments to Alejandro Bedoya and Jozy Altidore. I somehow doubt he did.
Update (5:30 p.m. ET): Shortly after publishing, Tim Howard walked back his comments in an interview with ESPN.
Howard insisted that his comments were not directed solely at dual nationals.
“Some of them are [dual nationals], but I think others are players who have their roots here in America too,” said. Howard. “It’s not exclusive to them because some of our dual nationals have been brilliant.
“Jermaine Jones has been a rock for our national team. He’s been one of the heartbeats. Fabian Johnson has been brilliant for us. So, no, that wasn’t aimed at any one person in particular.”