RETURNING to Hampden tonight for the first time in 22 years, Chris Woods will more fondly recall the visits to the stadium he made on Rangers’ behalf than England’s.
As the USA goalkeeping coach, however, his real focus will be on Tim Howard in the visitors’ net. There is an ironic twist to that situation in that it was Howard, the latest in a line of excellent American custodians, who got Woods the job under Jurgen Klinsmann.
“Tim Howard was the goalkeeper I was working with at Everton at the time,” Woods said yesterday of his 2011 link-up with the USA. “I think when Jurgen Klinsmann came in to take the job it all evolved from there and my name got put forward through Tim. So I went and helped out in a few sessions and, from there, I was offered the job.
“I’ve always worked with great goalkeepers, at club and international level. At Everton, at United and with the US I try to instil an ethic of hard work and focusing in training sessions.”
Howard, rated by Klinsmann as “one of the best five” keepers in the world, has a physical presence that perhaps gives him a certain advantage over smaller men but that was true also of his predecessors in the shirt, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tony Meola.
Woods has a theory as to why a long line of excellence in the last line of defence has buttressed US football’s growth.
“In the US the youngters play a lot of basketball and that probably helps with their hand-eye co-ordination from a young age. That’s probably a factor in how the US keeps churning out good keepers.”
Not that they simply roll off the production line. “Goalkeepers are very hard to come by,” Woods adds as his US team bus prepares to roll out of Murray Park after a training session. “I’m very lucky to work with such great players at club and international level. Finding a good goalkeeper is like finding a piece of gold.”
The former Ibrox No 1 is predicting a backlash from a Scotland side whose pride was wounded last year with that 5-1 defeat in Florida.
“It’s great to return to Glasgow and see a few old faces. Scotland have progressed well under Gordon Strachan and I think they’ll want to make up for the game in Jacksonville last year,” he said.
Hampden was something of a home from home for Woods during his 1980s Rangers heyday. Not that it felt like that when he arrived on Glasgow’s south side on home-international duty.
“The stick and banter would be flying all over the place,” he recalled. “It was really weird playing for England at Hampden. Obviously there were some Rangers fans in the Scottish support so before the game I thought I might get an okay welcome. But there was none of that. As soon as you pull on that England shirt you’re the opposition, shouting you down.”
Being in Glasgow, and especially in the facility where former team-mate Ally McCoist performs his managerial duties, Woods could not help but reminisce about his days under Graeme Souness and Walter Smith. “That dressing toom was such a laugh,” he said. “Davie Cooper was always joking around and there was a great spirit. It was a group of great players but I never felt like any single player stuck out. It was a team, that’s where our strength was.
“I’m just pleased to have been a part of what was a great spell for the club. It’s something that I’ll always treasure dearly. Rangers is a club I have a soft spot for.”