Another prominent U.S. soccer player is taking a sabbatical from the national team; but unlike Landon Donovan, goalkeeper Tim Howard leaves for his break with U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s blessing.
There are no indications Howard’s year away will be used against him when Klinsmann chooses his 2018 World Cup team.
Howard’s situation is different from Donovan’s. For one thing, he is not hanging up his boots altogether, as Donovan did during his four-month hiatus in early 2013. Howard will continue playing for Everton in the English Premier League, and asked for time off from national duty so he can spend time with his family after nearly a decade of yearlong soccer commitments.
He has been the No. 1 U.S. goalkeeper since 2007 and played every minute of the U.S. matches at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. He was a backup to Kasey Keller at the 2006 World Cup. This summer in Brazil, Howard’s status soared after spectacular play, including a World Cup record 16 saves in a 2-1 Round of 16 loss to Belgium
Also, Howard’s break comes very early in the World Cup cycle. Although he will miss the 2015 Gold Cup, he would be back in camp in time to play in World Cup qualifying matches.
“We had a very good and productive conversation,” Klinsmann said in a statement after Howard’s announcement Thursday. “I totally understand Tim’s situation. He was very straightforward and honest in his approach, and I admire him for that.
“He has a wish to take a step back to take care of his family, and we came to the conclusion that it’s absolutely fine that he takes time off from international soccer until after next summer’s Gold Cup, and then we reevaluate.
“I told him as long as he is the same Tim Howard that we always see performing well, he will be welcomed back with open arms and right back competing for a spot. He knows that he has to prove that he deserves to be back.”
Howard plans to return in September 2015.
“Having played overseas for the last 12 years and missing out on spending time with my family, making this commitment to my family is very important at this time,” Howard said.
“I am grateful for the willingness of both Jurgen Klinsmann and Everton manager Roberto Martinez to afford me the opportunity to spend time with my kids. It’s the right decision at the right time. Jurgen has always been up front with all the players in saying you have to earn your place, which is something I agree with, so I look forward to coming back next fall and competing for a spot.”
Howard’s close friend Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) is his likely replacement. He has paid his dues after being No. 2 in South Africa and Brazil. Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando, D.C. United’s Bill Hamid, and the Chicago Fire’s Sean Johnson also are candidates.
“We have young talented goalkeepers with Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid who have been brought along the last couple years, so this may give them a chance here and there to get some game time,” Klinsmann said. “Always when somebody steps aside for a moment, it gives an opportunity for the next ones in line.”
Howard told ESPN he will welcome the challenge upon his return.
“I’ve been scared to death about losing my place for the last 10 years. That’s an ongoing battle every day. That doesn’t change if you take time off, that’s the same,” Howard said. “I will play for the national team if I’m playing lights-out for Everton and I’m the best goalkeeper. Nothing will change that. That’s how it works.”• The devil of Manchester: Quote of the week comes from new Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, whose fans are not happy after a 2-1 season-opening loss to Swansea.
“Two weeks ago, I was the king of Manchester and now I am the devil of Manchester,” van Gaal said. “It is the football world and it is especially the media in this football world so I think that the fans of Manchester are intelligent.
“I have already said that it shall be difficult the first three months for the players, especially, but also for the fans and I said that also to [executive vice chairman] Ed Woodward and [owners] the Glazer family that it is always like that. They have hired me because of my philosophy, not because I am a very nice person — I am but it is my philosophy I have.
“I am not hired to be fired. I am hired to build up a team and that is a process and that process takes time. It is not an overnight job.”• On the move: The European transfer window closes Sept. 1, and several big deals are still in the works. Colombian star Radamel Falcao might transfer from AS Monaco to Liverpool, as manager Brendan Rogers seeks a replacement for departed Luis Suarez.
Controversial Italian star Mario Balotelli is also expected to land at Liverpool, and was undergoing a physical on Friday.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho would like to sign Mehdi Benatia, Sami Khedira and Loic Remy. He already added Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis to the team this summer.• Neymar in Miami: Three teams from the Brazil World Cup are playing exhibition matches in South Florida in early September.
Brazil plays Colombia on Sept. 5 at Sun Life Stadium, and Chile plays Haiti on Sept. 9 at Lockhart Stadium. It will be the first match for Brazil since its 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinal, and the first match under new coach Dunga.
Among the 10 World Cup players he included on his roster: Neymar, Hulk, Oscar and David Luiz. He added Phillipe Coutinho (Liverpool), Miranda (Atletico Madrid) and Brazilian league scoring leader Ricardo Goulart, who plays for Cruzeiro.
Chile’s squad has 16 World Cup players, including Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez and Claudo Bravo of Barcelona. Midfielder Francisco Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Chilean-Swiss who plays for FC Zurich, makes his first appearance. His brother, defender Ricardo Rodriguez, played for Switzerland in the World Cup.
In the lead
MLS: East-Sporting KC (42), DC United (40), Toronto (32). West-Seattle and Real Salt Lake (42), Dallas 39.
NASL: Minnesota and San Antonio (16), Tampa Bay (12), Fort Lauderdale (9).
On the Tube
Sunday: Tottenham vs. QPR (8:30 a.m., CNBC), Sunderland vs. Manchester United (11 a.m., NBCSN), Moenchengladbach vs. Stuttgart (11:30 a.m., GOL-TV), Barcelona vs. Elche (3 p.m., BeInSport USA), Portland vs. Seattle (5 p.m., ESPN2).