CHESTER, Pa. -- Hes the American face of Everton of the English Premier League, and one of the most well-known and recognized personalities in American soccer. He is U.S. Mens National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard and he was supposed to be at PPL Park on Wednesday for his squads matchup with the Union.
However, despite being the Unions poster player for the friendly in the months leading up to the highly anticipated match, the native of New Brunswick is on vacation and will not be in attendance.
Thats a real surprise to us, said Union CEO and Operating Partner, Nick Sakiewicz. Were really surprised. One of the reasons we entertained Evertons call was because of Tim Howard. We were under the impression that he was playing. Its disappointing, but, game on. Im sure itll still be a good game.
The bait-and-switch of Howards promoted presence then sudden absence is sure to ruffle the feathers of those who paid money to watch the keeper in person. But according to Evertons PR, Howard has been on leave ever since the CONCACAF Gold Cup ended on June 26. He didnt make the preseason trip with the team, but is expected to rejoin Everton for either their Saturday friendly against DC United or when the team returns to England. It was described as a coach's decision.
When asked about the fans displeasure with the late-breaking news, Sakiewicz shifted blame.
The fans should call Everton, he said. Its disappointing, but I guess thats the way Everton rolls.
But despite the disappointing news, the match against such a high-quality side such as Everton could still prove entertaining, especially with players like Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta going against the Unions Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux and Roger Torres.
Its a good game for us veterans, said Danny Califf. Any time get to step on pitch against quality players, its always a good time. We dont feel like any pressure for result, but of course want to do well. And for young guys its a great learning experience.
While its labeled a friendly, the first-place Union still want to perform admirably. Facing Everton gives them a chance to prove they can stand up against world-class competition.
The quality of competition is great, said coach Peter Nowak, whose team also plays Real Madrid in a friendly on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. The excitement is definitely there, but weve got to put some quality in there too. I think the MLS break with two games gives us another taste of where we are and what we need to do. Gonna give youngsters great experiences to play against those kinds of teams.
For Everton, which got off to a slow start last regular season, a preseason conditioning tour across on the East Coast is a test. Coach David Moyes, who trained his team at the Eagles practice facility the NovaCare Complex wants to gauge what his players are made of against competitive MLS sides.
We need to benefit because we need good fitness and to create a good standard of game, said Moyes. Every time we come to America we find the games really tough.
Arteta agreed that competing against the Union is not something they are taking lightly.
We have a few tough games here in America and thats what we want, Arteta said. We want to be ready for the start of our season. We got off to a slow start last season and it cost us.
Mondragon lone all-star
In his first MLS season, veteran goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon has made a strong impact on the Union, going 8-4-7 in 19 starts with seven shutouts. And with numbers like that, the league has taken notice.
On Monday the league announced that Mondragon, 39, was selected to the MLS all-star team as a back-up.
Obviously, Im very proud and very happy, said Mondragon. Yesterday on Twitter, I thanked everyone from ownership to front office to technical staff and especially my lions as I call my players. They make my job very easy. Everyone involved with franchise helped me since Day 1 in this club. In the end, a lot of players deserve that spot. Unfortunately for the Union theres only one player they have chosen, so I have to go and represent the Philadelphia Union as they deserve. Im very proud and very happy to make all-star team in first season in MLS.
The game will take place on July 27 at Red Bull Arena, where the MLS all-stars will take on Manchester United.
E-mail Ryan Bright at firstname.lastname@example.org