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The No. 1 that got away?

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

Sir Alex Ferguson is not a man who second-guesses his decisions. To the winners go the spoils, and the Manchester United manager's career is plated with the silverware of domestic and international success.

We will never know, but as he contemplated the end of his opportunity to win a historic five trophies this season, Ferguson might have wondered if he got it wrong with American goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Howard's penalty-saving heroics earned Everton a shootout victory in Sunday's FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium and knocked at least one pot out of his former employer's trophy cabinet.

When Ferguson gave up on Howard in 2006 and was happy to ship him off to Everton, first on loan and then permanently, it seemed like a sound decision. Howard was inconsistent during his spell at Old Trafford and United had just acquired a proven goalkeeping star in Edwin van der Sar.

But since his departure, Howard has blossomed into one of the finest keepers in the English Premier League. Now a goalie of world-class ability, he is arguably the best player on the U.S. national team, so when USA coach Bob Bradley tries to figure out how to compete with the best at the World Cup next year, between the posts is one area he need not be concerned with.

Howard's improvement may be the result of added experience or sheer hard work, but the feeling within the Everton camp is that manager David Moyes has instilled in the New Jersey native a sense of confidence that Ferguson never could.

Van der Sar has been a stellar performer for United, but the Dutchman is now 38 and nearing the end of his career. Howard is nine years younger, and his best days could be ahead of him. With a little more patience and a little more faith, Howard could still be helping United win trophies rather than snatching them from its grasp.

Weekend First XI

1. Get him an Advil

Referee Gonzalez Vazquez was surely left nursing a headache after officiating one of the season's most ill-tempered matches, as Valencia beat Sevilla 3-1 in La Liga action on Sunday. Vazquez handed out 15 yellow cards and also sent off Sevilla defender Adriano as the contest degenerated into a farcical free-for-all.

2. Get him a beer

It takes a lot to match a visit by President Barack Obama for publicity, but Javier Aguirre managed it with his official unveiling as Mexico head coach last week. Aguirre is a wildly popular choice following the doomed reign of Sven-Goran Eriksson, but he has a huge task ahead of him to lift the spirits of a dejected and disorganized squad that has struggled in World Cup qualifying.

3. Get him some earplugs

The first thing any new Liverpool player learns is that the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 of the club's fans were crushed to death 20 years ago, is a tragedy that will never be forgotten and never lose its significance.

The ignorance of Liverpool backup goalkeeper Charles Itandje, who was last week seen nudging a teammate with an amused look on his face during a memorial service, is both sickening and astounding. Itandje's days at the club are numbered and he would be wise not to show his face in the city between now and his impending departure.

4. Four corners

• Will Barcelona's season be remembered as one where history was made, or of unfulfilled promise?

• Why couldn't Marcelo Gallardo do more of this for D.C. United?

• Can the dominance of Marta help WPS gain a small foothold in the North American sports market?

• Just how slow must the defender have been who was "outpaced" by the still brilliant but not-so-speedy Ronaldo?

5. Catch a flight to …

Sweden. The European under-21 championships this summer will feature some of the most talented young players on the continent and is likely to produce plenty of impressive matchups. Keep an eye out for the teams from Finland and Belarus – not traditional soccer powers but currently blessed with an outstanding crop of emerging stars.

6. A round of applause for …

David Beckham. His wife Victoria was celebrating her birthday in Hollywood, but the England midfielder doesn't seem to be pining for Tinseltown too much. Beckham is thoroughly enjoying life in Italy, and he set up two goals for Filippo Inzaghi as AC Milan moved into second place in Serie A with a 5-1 win over Torino. Los Angeles must seem like a world, or even a Galaxy, away.

7. Get them a Kleenex

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were both left complaining about the state of the Wembley Stadium pitch after their teams were dumped out of the FA Cup. Wenger's Arsenal found Chelsea too strong, while Ferguson's dreams of a five-trophy season collapsed as his under-strength side turned in a miserable performance in losing to Everton on penalty kicks. The complaints were not without foundation, as the field conditions were poor. But the comments were merely an attempt to deflect attention from a sub-standard effort by both Premiership powers.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Kyle Davies. The United States under-20 defender will join Real Salt Lake after spending two years with English Championship side Southampton.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Simon Eliott. The San Jose Earthquakes' veteran midfielder is being targeted for a return to his native New Zealand by Wellington Phoenix, which plays in the Australian A-League.

10. Get excited about …

Grafite. He is 30 years old and has passed under the radar for most of his career, but the Brazilian striker is among the most in-form players in the world right now. His 22 goals this season have helped Wolfsburg to the top of the German Bundesliga and given the South American some long-awaited recognition across Europe.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Take a look at AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf's stunning wife Luviana.