Hagel to Howard: How’d you like to protect the whole country?

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 2, 2014 

SPORTS SOC-NIGERIA-USA 8 OS

United States goalkeeper Tim Howard celebrates after a 2-1 win against Nigeria in a friendly in preparation for the World Cup, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, June 7, 2014.

STEPHEN M. DOWELL — MCT

— Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel mixed humor and hyperbole Wednesday in recommending U.S. soccer goalie Tim Howard for a job even more important than trying to save the nation’s World Cup hopes.

Hagel phoned Howard to deliver some mighty big praise for his record-breaking performance Wednesday in the American team’s 2-1 loss to the Belgian squad.

According to Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, Hagel invited Howard, 35, and his teammates to visit the massive five-sided building across the Potomac River from Washington that serves as headquarters for the United States military.

“He told Howard that with some training, he could someday become the real secretary of defense,” Kirby said of Hagel’s chat with the keeper.

Howard made 15 saves in the heartbreaking loss, more than any goalie has recorded in a World Cup game since FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, began tracking the statistic in 1966. The previous record of 13 saves had stood since 1978.

When told immediately after the loss to Belgium that he’d set a new record for saves, Howard said: “You know, I don’t really keep count. It sucks that we lost. So that’s the overriding thing, unfortunately.”

In addition to minding the net for the U.S. national team, Howard plays for the Everton Football Club, a Liverpool, England-based squad in the elite English Premier League.

Howard, a devout Christian born to an African-American father and a Hungarian mother, is a New Jersey native who’s played on the American team since 2002. He started all of the squad’s games in the 2010 World Cup, when it reached the Round of 16, as it did this year.

Email: jrosen@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @jamesmartinrose

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