It must be be something about that date on the calendar. Four years to the day after Peyton Manning was introduced as the newest member of the Denver Broncos, another big-name athlete joined a local team on March 20. Yesterday, the oft-rumored acquisition of Tim Howard, the star goaltender from both the U.S. Men’s National Team and Everton of the Premier League, by the Colorado Rapids became official.
With that news, the Rapids were suddenly the talk of the sports world on a quiet Sunday morning, trending on Twitter and garnering as much conversation as plenty of the yet-to-tipoff games in the NCAA Tournament. The local MLS team had made quite a splash, sparking some much-needed interest in the franchise and the league.
The 37-year-old goaltender is among the biggest stars in American soccer, thanks in large part to his record-setting performance in the 2014 FIFA World Cup; in a 2-1 loss to Belgium during the round of 16, Howard kept the United States in the game by making 15 saves, the most ever in a World Cup match. That performance, plus his unmistakable look, which features a bald head and a bushy beard, made Howard a cult hero among American sports fans that summer.
While Howard won’t immediately turn around the fortunes of the franchise, his presence certainly can’t hurt. Yes, the team’s biggest problem at the moment is that they can’t seem to score – the Rapids have a league-worst two goals through their first three games of the 2016 season – adding a player who has excelled on the biggest stages in soccer should help elevate everyone’s level of play, as it’s a sign that expectations have risen in Commerce City.
That’s good news for Rapids fans, a group that has suffered through some dismal seasons since the team won the MLS Cup in 2010. Colorado hasn’t won a playoff game in four years, hitting rock bottom last season when they finished at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. So any kind of step in the right direction should be seen as a positive.
Even if the new goaltender doesn’t make an impact in the standings, his presence certainly makes the team more interesting. For the first time in a long time, there’s a buzz around the Rapids, thanks to the acquisition of a bona fide star.
That’s great news for the general sports fan in Colorado, as the city has seen a ton of high-profile athletes leave town in recent years. Denver might be among the fastest-growing cities in America, not to mention the most livable, but it hasn’t been a beacon for prominent players of late. While the road out of town may not be a one-way street, it certainly hasn’t been a zero-sum game. Plenty of jerseys are currently gathering dust in the closets of local fans; from Manning and Troy Tulowitzki to Carmelo Anthony and Ryan O’Reilly, a lot of popular players have departed in the past decade.
Seeing that trend reversed, even if it’s in one instance, is a positive thing. If Howard flourishes in Colorado, it might subconsciously encourage other athletes to call the Mile High City home. And if the addition of the star player turns around the Rapids’ fortunes, particularly at the turnstiles, maybe some other teams in town will follow their lead.
The Broncos can afford the exodus of stars that they’ve endured this offseason; a win in Super Bowl 50 buys them a few years worth of much-deserved goodwill. And the Rockies can also withstand the loss of their most-popular player, as they have other big names on the field to take their place (Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado are among the best players in Major League Baseball) and the team’s biggest stars – summertime in Denver, lower downtown and Coors Field – remain consistently great season after season.
But the Avalanche and Nuggets don’t enjoy those built-in free passes; the local hockey and basketball teams have seen attendance dwindle in recent years, as the wins have dried up and the star power on the ice and court, respectively, hasn’t been on par with what fans of both franchises have become accustomed. As a result, both are struggling at the gate; the Avs are 19th in the NHL in attendance, drawing just 16,965 per night to Pepsi Center, while the Nuggets are 30th in the NBA (dead last) at attracting fans, averaging only 14,046 per home game.
If the acquisition of Howard proves to be a catalyst for increased interest in what’s going on at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this spring and summer, that piqued interest could push two other Kroenke-owned teams in the right direction. Better yet, maybe the move is a sign of things to come, an indication that the green light has been given to make waves.
The Avalanche have a solid young core, but they don’t have a lot to show for all of those high draft picks; one playoff appearance in five years is disappointing. Maybe a splashy move or two would rekindle the magic of the team’s glory years. And while the Nuggets have some nice pieces to build around, they need some proven stars to show their up-and-coming talent how to consistently win in the NBA. Maybe they’ll put their nearly $30 million in projected cap space to use this summer, making the kind of move for which the team was once known (see Kenyon Martin, Allen Iverson and Chauncey Billups).
It’s unrealistic for fans to expect their team to win a championship every season; there are simply too many variables that go into to the pursuit of a title to make that remotely plausible. But they can demand that their teams are relevant and interesting, two things that normally come from making a genuine attempt to win it all on an annual basis.
Yesterday, the Colorado Rapids did something to give their fans hope; they made a splashy acquisition that thrust the team onto the front page and provided a much-needed boost of excitement. Here’s hoping the Tim Howard acquisition starts a trend in Denver sports; it’s time for more teams to make some bold moves.