Costa Rica's Keylor Navas (pictured) has been one of the outstanding players at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)
SALVADOR, Brazil – Amidst the myriad of storylines surrounding the 2014 FIFA World Cup, one of the loudest narratives coming out of Brazil has been the near universal praise of CONCACAF goalkeepers.
With three of four participating member associations advancing out of the group stage, CONCACAF teams have experienced unprecedented success at the tournament. Much of that prosperity can be directly attributed to the outstanding play of goalkeepers Tim Howard, Guillermo Ochoa and Keylor Navas. Each put forth inspired performances to help lead their teams out of difficult groups and into the tournament’s knock-out stages.
For the USA’s Tim Howard, the World Cup has brought with it household name recognition and praise from teammates, coaches and opposition alike.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann described the 35-year-old as "phenomenal,” “outstanding” and “amazing” following his record breaking 15-save outing against Belgium in the round of 16.
The Everton star’s high-caliber displays set social media outlets alight throughout the tournament, garnering an incredible 1.8 million mentions during the Belgium match alone, including the amusing creation of a #ThingsTimHowardCanSave hashtag that showed Howard saving – amongst others – the dinosaurs from extinction. Such was the intensity of the response to Howard’s memorable night that the White House also received humorous petitions to name Howard as the nation’s Secretary of Defense as well as a request to name one of Washington D.C.’s international airports to “Tim Howard National Airport.”
Howard was not the only CONCACAF goalkeeper in the spotlight, though, as remarkable displays from Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa are also certain to be remembered.
Against Brazil, Ochoa was inspirational, making a series of saves – including arguably the tournament’s best on a 26th minute sprawling denial of a Neymar header – to secure a famous point for the Mexicans. While fans at home and abroad collectively cheered on their exceptional goalkeeper, the former Ajaccio man helped lead his side to their sixth straight appearance in the round of 16 appearance, where -- despite another classy performance -- El Tri was eliminated courtesy of two late goals from the Netherlands.
Last, but certainly not least, was the unforgettable exploits of Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who was perhaps the tournaments biggest revelation. The Levante standout played a featured role in his side’s first-place finish in the “Group of Champions” and progression to the quarterfinals, before being outlasted by the Dutch on penalty kicks following a scoreless draw.
Named man-of-the-match in three of the Ticos’ five encounters, Navas’ play has merited the respect of the global soccer community and seen him recognized as a national hero,
"I think Navas has been the best goalkeeper in this World Cup,” said Costa Rica manger Jorge Luis Pinto.
While Navas is certainly deserving of such plaudits, the award for the World Cup’s best goalkeeper is one that would perhaps be most fairly shared by Navas, Howard and Ochoa.
The trio have combined to give CONCACAF fans everywhere a summer to remember.