After a wrenching loss to Belgium ended the U.S. team's World Cup run, fans are still touting the play of goalkeeper Tim Howard, Photoshopping his head onto U.S. currency and even (briefly) dubbing him Secretary of Defense on Wikipedia.
In Tuesday's game, Howard set a new World Cup record by making 16 saves. The mark dates back to at least 1966, when organizers started keeping records of that statistic. He was elected man of the match in the 2-1 loss.
The stellar showing quickly sparked a Twitter hashtag, #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave. Among the candidates: Private Ryan, Bambi, several troubled economies and Betamax.
Howard's performance emerged as a brilliant star turn in a tense game that saw Belgium's lauded young stars make repeated runs at the U.S. net, streaking past American defenders. They sent the ball high and low — and for more than 90 minutes, Howard turned them all away.
But two shots eluded the goalie in the extra periods, dashing the Americans' hopes of reaching the quarterfinals.
"We dreamed, and again we fell short of our dream," Howard said afterward. "Gosh, we were right there. We nearly had it. But this is a young group, and we'll be back for more."
To put the 16 saves in perspective, we'll note that back in 2010, Howard was named man of the match for making eight saves against England, in a 1-1 draw that was also his World Cup debut. His accomplishment in Tuesday's game might glow even brighter in the future, as a talented and young Belgian team could go on to rain goals down on their opponents.
Even Belgium's captain, Vincent Kompany, joined in praising Howard on Tuesday.
And in another sign of esteem, Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, who scored the second goal against Howard (and who played alongside him on Everton in the English Premier League this past season), approached the U.S. goalkeeper after the match to say hi — and to trade jerseys with him.
The loss sends the U.S. team back to the drawing board for the 2018 World Cup, and it could mean the end of the line for Howard, 35. He has said he'll retire after the 2017-18 season; it's unclear whether that might include one more dream of going deep into the World Cup.