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June 14, 2012

Defending Tim Howard - The Guatemala Case

If you are an aspiring physics teacher you now have the answer to "Why do we have to learn this stuff?" It's so you can write a blog post, that maybe 50 people will see, defending one of the greatest goalies that has ever played for the United States of America.

I was a little put out at the negative response towards Howard after the Guatemala capitalized their free kick that ended up tying the game 1-1. The response wasn't overwhelming, to be honest, and I suppose there's always going to be harsh opinions floating around on the web but I was still annoyed with it nonetheless. People are always quick to blame a goalkeeper but strikers are continually let off the hook for not finishing chances. This fueled my inner lawyer and plus who doesn't like to do recreational math during the summer?

Before I go all Sports Science on you guys, let me say that while I do believe that Tim Howard is the obvious number one goalkeeper for us I do believe he is able to make mistakes. I talked about it in the Brazil game and, while I haven't written a review, he basically fell out of the way of the Antigua and Barbuda goal. I thought he looked sharp for the Canada game and even against Guatemala he was looking good. I'm having trouble finding a decent enough highlight reel but he had a point blank save just prior to the goal that kept the game 1-0.

There will be a time where another goalie will fill his void but for now he's our number one.

Moving on, let's examine the play. In about one fourth speed it looks like Tim Howard lazily watches a free kick enter the goalmouth only two steps away from him. You can see it here.

Howard sets up his wall pretty well. Front and back post are covered. To score, Guatemala's Marco Pappa can only hit about a fifth of the goal. Still dangerous but not a PK. The only negative here is that Howard can't see the ball when the shot is taken. There's some movement prior to the kick and he ends up leaning to his right to get a better view. (You can see his head lean in the third picture.) This slight movement, I believe, stops him from making the save.

The shot covers 19.56 yards in about .8 seconds. This puts it around 50 mph. Not the fastest shot ever but still a decent blast. Howard can't react until he sees the ball and the ball doesn't become visible until it rises right over the wall, about 10.67 yards from goal.

This cuts Howard's reaction time to .436 seconds. Now some dimensions...

A squared plus B squared equals saving a shot squared. Howard's hands are a little low in the picture but they should be around 3'3" from the ground. (Luckily I am Howard's height so this was easy to figure out.) I assumed two inches from the bar was adequate to save the shot and with some more math I figured out he has to move his hands 68.6 inches to save the ball, or 5 feet 8.6 inches. To cover the distance in the allotted time (.436 seconds) he has to move at 8.94 mph, which should mean nothing to anyone because who knows how fast hands move on average. I don't.

I measured a spot 5' 8.6" from my own roof and timed myself on moving my hands the distance. On average I did it in .3 seconds (my poor iPhone doesn't do hundredths). Some times I did it in .2 but I felt like I jumped the gun those times. And it was about 8 out of 10 times I got .3 so that felt accurate. We can trust my reaction speed because of my stellar goalkeeping record (check out "most losses").

So Howard had .436 seconds to make a reaction save that would take around .3 seconds. But this doesn't take into account a couple of other things. It's pretty easy to move your hands 6 feet when you know the exact destination ahead of time and you have all the time to prepare yourself. Howard is being forced into a reflex save and doesn't know when it's coming or where it's going. The ball is also bending away from Howard so maybe getting a couple of fingers on it isn't enough. Also he'd be going up with his left hand, his weak hand. Taking all of these things into account, Howard could have saved it but can we expect a save at least 50% of the time there (aka a save he should make)? I don't think so. I would have loved to see Howard make any step except backwards into his goal but demanding perfection every time is unreasonable. Maybe he set too many people in the wall that ended up blocking his vision which delayed his reflex. I saw this tweet...
Tough to say. The funny thing is that most people who are expecting a save could only respond to "What could he have done better?" with "Well just save it. It's right there." There's hardly any legitimate critique of the play.

Had Howard saved the shot everyone would have gone bonkers, anyway.


  1. cool take on it. As disappointed as I was in the tie, I am glad we at least got a point in the most hostile environment we are going to play at in all of qualifying probably.

  2. I've been thinking about this a lot over the past few days for some reason (probably cause i'm super bored) and here are my I've-never-been-a-goalie-in-my-life-thoughts.

    I do find there to be a large difference between the blame goalies get for letting one by and the praise they get for monumental saves. It's probably because the memory of the save is temporary while the tally on the scoreboard stays up there as a constant reminder of the goal. But even still I find there to be very few "mistakes" being made by the top level goalkeepers (which Howard is obviously in company with).

    For me, there are the three save categories: those that should be made, can be made, and can't be made unless your name is Iker Casillas. I'd say, conservativly, 85 percent of goals fall in the last category. The goals that get scored and say "there was little to nothing that the goalie could have done about that". I'll revisit these later. 14.9 Percent would then fall in the middle category, which is where i think the Guatemala goal is. Those are the goals that you look at and think "there might have been something retrospectivly that the goalie could have done different" (in my eyes, for the Guatemala goal, he didn't get set cause he was trying to get Altidore to move). But after all the replays and speculating, should he have come out sooner, should he have punched it rather than try to catch it, anybody who claims to know anything about has to reach a conclusion of "the save could have been made, would have been nice if he did, but he didn't, and i dont want him benched over it."

    The last .1 percent is for the goals that make you wonder either how you didn't make it pro, or what i like to call "MLS goals". Robert Green's gaff in the world cup for example. Those are really the only ones that blame the goalie for.

    For the first category that i talked about, while i dont blame the goalie there is usually someone that i can blame. Whenever i see a goal go in the first thing i ask is "who missed their mark", probably the defender in me. Or, for a free kick, who gave the opponents a dangerous position to score from. Like with the Sulphur Springs goal, it was a save that maybe you could have made, but my thoughts immedietly go to the defender who let his mark roam free because he tried to fake his way to a freek kick.

    When i played, i made it my job to a)make play predictable for the defenderes supporting me, and b)leave players only with shots of the first category. It worked out pretty well for the levels i played at as there were few people capable of excecuting that shot.

    Basically, odds are, if a goal goes in and someone blames the keeper, they're dumb.