No one should ever find joy in athlete injury; remember what they say about karma being a “you-know-what.”
As such, none of the good, sweet, clean U.S. Soccer supporters would ever be “happy” that Tim Howard fell to injury three weeks ago at Everton, causing the highly respected American backstopper to also miss two massive World Cup qualifiers for his homeland.
But now that it’s over, now that Howard is once again stately guardian of Goodison Park goal – pitching a shutout while presiding over his team’s 1-0 win Saturday against Stoke City – it seems OK to chew on this bit of delicious gristle:
Was all this a positive thing in the long run for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team?
Brad Guzan (pictured) was flawless in goal over two U.S. nights. The duty was hardly extensive in that memorable March 22 fluffy white madness outside Denver, but what Guzan did handle that snowy evening required military grade attention, not to mention the surest of gloved hand. Four nights later in Mexico City, heady and hardy U.S. center back play prevented Guzan from being stretched too often. But again, what the U.S. backup did that cool evening at Azteca, he did with calm assurance and impeccable technique.
So … now we know.
We all suspected Guzan, so heroically nimble and well-placed this year while standing in the shooting gallery of Villa Park, had the stuff to handle the pressure cooker of a World Cup qualifying effort approaching the skids. (We did tell you so, after all.) But suspecting is one thing; putting on your flight suit while standing on deck beneath the “Mission accomplished” banner is something quite different.
Howard will be back in goal next time around. No need for Klinsmann to over-think this one, eh? It’s Howard as No. 1, now with Guzan as No. 1A.
It does help put this drive for Brazil 2014 into a better place, knowing a highly capable backup is around to stave off significant dropoff should Howard become less available once again.
Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.
Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.
What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?
[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]
Turns out, a lot.
There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.
Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – Spurs
The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.
But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.
That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).
If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.
What a weekend. Let’s relive it.
Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.
[ MORE: Latest Premier League news ]
Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.
Come for the goal, stay for the “Gol” call.
Or should we say the “Gol. Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Gol” call.
[ MORE: Angry Louis van Gaal rips journalists for “inventing” stories ]
USMNT defender Omar Gonzalez has opened his account for Pachuca with this 88th minute header, and it’s worth it if just for the auditory performance.
Gonzalez also pulls out the high-capacity weapon celebration, though he’s apparently opted to do the version closer to the “Scarface” finale (Spoiler alert).
In a week where defenders scored critical goals, it’s no surprise to see a 4-3-3 in the Premier League’s Team of the Week.
Robert Huth‘s brace while blanking Manchester City leads the way for the PL’s top XI from the weekend, while Southampton’s vaunted back line and keeper have two in mix.
[ MORE: Ailing Chelsea, Man Utd showcase obvious deficiencies ]
Liverpool and Arsenal both put offensive forces on the team, while big goals for safety hopefuls Newcastle United and Aston Villa found three players between the two in the XI.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Premier League Team of the Week — Round 25 [ ARCHIVE ]
Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster (Southampton)
Defenders: Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Robert Huth (Leicester City), Joleon Lescott (Aston Villa)
Midfielders: Aaron Lennon (Everton), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Forwards: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)