Tim Howard named U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year

Goalkeeper Tim Howard was named the 2014 U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year on Thursday.

As revealed on ESPN's "SportsCenter," Howard received more votes than five of his teammates as the top performer for the United States men's national team, which reached the knockout stages of the World Cup this summer.

"It's pretty special to have my name up there with the greats," Howard said.

Howard garnered global attention for his performance against Belgium in the World Cup round of 16 on July 1. His 15 saves set a World Cup record and helped keep the match scoreless until extra time, when Belgium would go on to win 2-1.

Despite his excellence against Belgium, Howard said he couldn't pick a single moment that stood out from his year.

"It's hard to pick one moment as you can imagine," Howard said. "That whole ride, with that team for about a month and a half, when we got together for training camp and then flew down to Brazil, we had a really good time.

"That whole month and a half felt like a blur, but if I could put that into a singular moment, that of course makes 2014 so special for me."

Howard reflected on the United States' growing profile in global soccer, and acknowledged that the team gained a lot of new followers around the world because of their performance in the World Cup.

"I think we're a special group, we're a special team," Howard said. "Certainly we raised a few eyebrows getting out of the group of death. I don't think most anyone would have picked us to do that. But we have fight and we have spirit and we have heart, and that's what we bring into every game.

"And so I think a lot of neutrals often pull for us and we saw that down in Brazil, because they know that we'll never lie for anybody and when the bell rings we answer it, we always do. I think that appeals to a lot of people."

In total, Howard started eight games for the United States in 2014, and was credited with three wins, three defeats and a draw.

Before the World Cup, Howard led to the U.S. to a sweep of three warm-up friendlies against Nigeria, Turkey and Azerbaijan, against which Howard posted his lone clean sheet of the year.

Against Nigeria, he also marked his 100th international appearance, becoming the 15th American man to reach the century mark. He has now made more appearances for the U.S. than any other goalkeeper, and also became the nation's all-time leader in wins with 55.

After the World Cup, Howard announced he would take a year away from the national team, and he said Thursday he stills feels he made the right choice, though he's also eager to return when the year is up.

"It was a good decision. I was very comfortable with it then and I still feel like it was the right decision now," Howard told ESPN FC. "It's just given me an opportunity to rest and see my children a lot and enjoy some quality time with then, which is what I needed. I'm looking forward to getting back, though. My blood's still pumping, I love pulling on that jersey. Of course I miss it, but I needed to prioritize and do what I needed to do."

Howard also said it "shouldn't be a problem" for him to stay fit to play for the U.S. at the next World Cup in 2018, when he'll be 39.

"I have to be playing consistently and playing well," Howard said of his chances to play in Russia in four years. "That's not changed since I first started on the national team, whether I was 31 or 39, I have to be playing and playing well.

"Of course I'm getting older I have to look after myself and make sure I stay fit and get my rest and eat well, but that's my lifestyle anyway, so it shouldn't be a problem."

Howard, 35, won the award for the second time in his career and the first time since 2008. He was chosen over teammates Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones for the 2014 honor."

Votes were collected from current U.S. coaches, players and staff, MLS and NASL head coaches, select media members, and former players and administrators.

U.S. soccer also announced five nominees for Young Male Athlete of the Year: midfielders Mukwelle Akale, Emerson Hyndman and Christian Pulisic, forward Haji Wright and defender DeAndre Yedlin.

The 2014 U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year award nominees and voting process will occur in December.