Tim Howard, the U.S. goalkeeper who set a World Cup record for saves in a match this summer, is taking a break from the national team.
Citing a desire to spend more time with his two children during lulls in Everton’s Premier League schedule, Howard will not make himself available for friendlies or next summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. He plans to resume his international career in September 2015, although U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said Howard would need to “prove that he deserves to be back.”
In a prepared statement distributed by the U.S. Soccer Federation, Howard said: “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. I am grateful for the willingness of both [U.S. Coach] 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, 35, has been the first-choice U.S. goalkeeper for seven years and started in two World Cups. Last weekend he began his ninth season as Everton’s starter. Previously, he played for Manchester United. Howard, who made his U.S. debut in 2002, is the program’s all-time leader among goalies in appearances (104) and victories (55), and second in shutouts (34).
Aside from his club career, Howard is entering his second season as a part-time analyst for NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premier League. His children Jacob and Ali are 8 and 7 years old, respectively and live with Howard’s ex-wife in Tennessee.
“I totally understand Tim’s situation,” Klinsmann said in the USSF’s release. “He was very straight forward 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 re-evaluate. I told him as long as he is the same Tim Howard that we always see performing well, he will be welcome back with open arms and right back competing for a spot. He knows that he has to prove that he deserves to be back.”
The timing of Howard’s break does not create a hardship for the U.S. squad. The months after a World Cup are the slowest for the national team and qualifying for the 2018 tournament in Russia will not begin for two years. Aside from the Gold Cup, the Americans are not involved in major competition again until the 2016 Copa America, the South American tournament that will be held in the United States for the first time.
Howard’s sabbatical allows Brad Guzan, the Aston Villa starter who backed up Howard in the past two World Cups, to move into the No. 1 position. Guzan, who turns 30 next month, has started World Cup qualifiers when Howard was not available and made 24 national team appearances. Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando, the third-choice keeper in Brazil, will remain high on Klinsmann’s depth chart. D.C. United’s Bill Hamid, who has received several call-ups and is enjoying an excellent MLS season, will also be in the mix.
“Always when somebody steps aside for a moment,” Klinsmann said, “it gives an opportunity for the next ones in line.”
The Americans will play the Czech Republic in a Sept. 3 friendly in Prague, their first match since Howard made 16 saves in a 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium in the World Cup’s round of 16. The U.S. squad is also slated to play Ecuador on Oct. 10 in East Hartford, Conn., and an additional home friendly Oct. 14 (venue and opponent to be announced). The 2014 campaign will close Nov. 18 against Ireland in Dublin.
Howard said “physically and mentally I feel as strong as ever. I’m also 35 years old and it’s four years before the next World Cup. If I want to be able to get to the next World Cup, I also have to be smart about managing my body. I will get a bit of extra time off during the international windows, and this will also be the first real summer break that I have had in 12 years.”
As for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, “right now my heart, mind and body all say yes, but it’s difficult to predict the situation in four years. I will always be upfront about my intentions, and of course the manager has to select you. I am fully committed to the cause, and it’s important to me that my teammates understand that.”