Friday, August 22, 2014
If anyone currently on the U.S. men's national team has earned himself a sabbatical, surely it's goalkeeper Tim Howard. This afternoon he made the unexpected decision to take the next year off from the squad to concentrate on his powerhouse club-Everton-while also spending more time with his family. For most players (cough cough Landon Donovan) this would be a recipe for disaster to go away in their prime but there are a few reasons why this makes perfect sense.
Howard is 35 so while he's not getting any younger, his goal of playing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia is attainable (since goalkeepers can hang around forever). Saving himself extra wear and tear with the U.S. should help maintain his legs. Keep in mind that other than the Gold Cup next summer (and really, who cares?) and some random friendlies, the Americans don't have many important matches through next September-when he'd prefer to return.
Also unlike Donovan, you can't doubt Howard's passion for the sport and underlying motivation. Plus, it's not as if he's taking time off just to do nothing or simply hang out/chase women after a divorce. He'll still be the No. 1 goalkeeper for one of the best clubs in England and by extension the world. That'll keep him plenty busy with that and remember that the EPL season (which just started last weekend) goes all the way until May with very few breaks.
Enjoy your USMNT time off Tim, hope you come back refreshed for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and your teammates. For the next year, Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) figures to be the No. 1 goalkeeper for the U.S. with Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) backing him up. I've always said that goalkeeping is the one position that we can match up favorably with any other country in the world. Guzan is very good, another starter in the EPL, while Rimando has become one of the top goalkeepers in MLS history.
Their first chance to shine will be on September 3 when the U.S. takes on Czech Republic in Prague. Howard and Everton host Arsenal on Saturday (12:30, NBC) at Goodison Park in arguably the top match of the weekend.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Regarding the USMNT, nothing pisses me off more than seeing guys either leave Europe and return to MLS (Clint Dempsey) or even worse, never taking that risky plunge and remaining in MLS for possibly their entire careers (Graham Zusi, Matt Besler). That's why today's expected news, long rumored for weeks, that defender DeAndre Yedlin is transferring from Seattle (MLS) to Tottenham (EPL) makes me so happy.
At age 21, Yedlin is just starting to come into his own as a player and I'd argue that nobody on the USMNT saw their stock rise more in Brazil this summer at the World Cup than him. Think about it, nobody really knew who he was going into the tournament (myself included wondered why he was on the 23-man roster) and as it turned out with injuries and poor performances, he was thrust into the spotlight and really made the most of it. He appeared in three games as a substitute, playing nearly 90 minutes in their round of 16 loss to Belgium. On a team lacking creativity, speed and game-breakers, he brought all those elements that so many of his less talented teammates can.
Yedlin will play out the rest of the season with the Sounders then go to Tottenham to start next season, he signed a four-year deal with Spurs-one of the top clubs not only in England but the world. The only way that the U.S. will ever take the next step and truly be a threat to get to a World Cup final and dare I say win one, then they need players like Yedlin willing to test themselves at the highest level rather than remaining in MLS fat and happy.
Will he play much at Tottenham? Probably not at first but still, just training and being at their matches with some of the top players on the planet will bring him far more benefit than dominating in MLS could ever accomplish. Tottenham will pay a $4 million transfer fee to MLS with 75% going to Seattle since Yedlin is a homegrown player (he's from Washington state). USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to be thrilled that Yedlin is going to one of his many former clubs. It has to tear him up to see other guys stay in the U.S. and never really challenge themselves.
Good luck DeAndre, we know you can do it!
Thursday, August 7, 2014
I was never a huge Landon Donovan fan but I have to admit that you'd have a hard time coming up with an American men's soccer player that has put together a more impressive professional career. At the ripe old age (yeah right) of 32, Donovan made the surprise announcement this afternoon that he's stepping away from the game that has given him so much (and vice versa) after this MLS season with the LA Galaxy is completed.
You realize how rare this is to see an athlete basically in his prime (although not according to Jurgen Klinsmann) retire before he becomes old and washed up? It's refreshing and it makes me find a whole new level of respect for Donovan. His whole life has been centered around soccer and who are we to tell him when he has to retire or not?
The midfielder/forward is the top goal-scorer in MLS history (138 regular season; 22 postseason, also a record) and U.S. national team history (57 goals, 58 assists in 156 caps) that played in three World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010) where he scored five total goals. He won five MLS Cups between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy along with the Golden Boot in 2008 and MLS MVP in 2009.
Not content to simply tear it up in the JV MLS and with the U.S., he stuck with it and tested himself overseas with some of the top teams in Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich) and England (Everton). Much like life itself, not every stop along the way was smooth or enjoyable but he continued to plug away and eventually left a lasting mark in the EPL with Everton in 2010 and 2012 loan spells.
Getting left off the 23-man roster for this summer's World Cup in Brazil caused plenty of controversy and I have to hand it to him that he didn't let it become too much of a distraction when everyone tried to make it one. He agreed to work as an analyst on ESPN during World Cup coverage, which had to be extremely awkward, but he didn't resort to low-rent tactics of sniping at Klinsmann or others when the U.S. struggled at times and eventually bowed out to Belgium. Clearly he would have helped the team and he should have been there but that's a moot point by now.
When I think of Donovan's illustrious career, two main things will come to mind first in a world of rich memories: 1) the way that Mexican fans absolutely despised him which in a weird way was the ultimate sign of respect; 2) his top moment for my money was the group-clincher vs. Algeria in 2010. That is on the short list of best moments in USMNT history.
In summation, thanks for the memories Landon and enjoy your retirement. You certainly earned it!