Howard Heralds Superstar Showdown
Keeper expecting large American interest in FA Cup clash.
Two of the USA's biggest stars go head-to-head this week as their respective clubs aim to take a giant stride towards one of the biggest sporting occasions on the planet.
Hundreds of thousands will be following events worldwide, each wanting to know which of the duo will lead their side to glory.
Money will be wagered, replica shirts donned and beer fridges filled. Bar stools will be pushed aside, sofas rearranged and families gathered.
But this isn't the Superbowl. It isn't The Stanley Cup. It's not the World Series. It's Everton versus Fulham in the English FA Cup.
The importance of the tie and the meeting of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey - arguably the greatest two footballers the USA has produced - is not lost on compatriot and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.
On one hand his side are vying for a place in the fifth round of a competition they are desperate to win. On the other, the Blues' exposure to an American audience may be as great as ever.
"I would hope there'll be a big American interest," he told evertontv. "They are two of our biggest marquee players, not because of their marketability, how they dress or the way they look but because they are our best players bar none, and from a US national team standpoint they're the key cogs. We need to have Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey at their best to make waves, win competitions, qualify for World Cups and so on."
Having served as a home to the likes of Joe-Max Moore, Brian McBride and Howard himself, Everton's standing on the other side of the Atlantic has long been high.
That interest peaked, however, with the loan acquisition of Landon Donovan from LA Galaxy in January 2010.
So mutual was the respect born between Club and player during his three months in England, America's all-time leading scorer promised a return to the Premier League would only ever lead him back to Goodison Park.
His return earlier this month was therefore heralded by fans and to date the pocket-sized forward has done little to disappoint.
Meanwhile, at Craven Cottage, Dempsey has been in the form of his life - 15 goals in 29 appearances this season making him one of England's most deadly marksmen.
The 28-year-old's emergence as Fulham's primary threat was perhaps best demonstrated by his clinical second-half hat-trick against Newcastle last weekend and Howard believes America's hottest two talents are meeting whilst at the very height of their powers.
"For me they are top, top players and I think they continue to prove that every single year,” he said. "Without any disrespect to Fulham, I think Clint's been their best player for quite a while and it seems year after year they begin to rely more and more on his presence, on his goals and on his leadership. I know Clint has been on a wonderful scoring run but hopefully we can keep him out and keep him quiet.
"And Landon. What can you say about Landon? He wins championships and he's always the best player or thereabouts. He has been a huge positive for us. He's put in some really solid performances and one thing about Landon is he's very aware of what goes on on a football field and he reads situations and how he can best provide for the team in those situations.
"He's very clever in that regard and talent-wise he's up there with the best. He's done well. We always kind of knew him coming back was a great situation for him, a great situation for us and that it would be seamless, because he's been here before and understands the landscape.”
Howard’s own zenith in an Everton shirt arguably came in helping David Moyes’ men reach the FA Cup final in 2009, his penalty shootout heroics in the semi-final proving the difference against heavy favourites Manchester United.
The keeper is targetting Wembley once again and wants victory over Fulham this weekend.
He added: “It's the FA Cup and we know what it tastes like to be in a final, so that's a huge, huge motivating factor. It's odd to play on a Friday night but it will be at the end of a long working week for the supporters and I think it will be nice to play under the lights.
“I always like to play earlier than all the other teams because it gets the result out of the way and allows you, if you get a good result, to enjoy your weekend and watch the other games knowing that you're going to be in the hat."