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EXCLUSIVE: Tim Howard on Everton vs. Liverpool – “We’ll be heroes if we win”

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On Saturday one of English soccer’s greatest rivalries will take center stage for the first time in the 2013-14 season: Everton host Liverpool at Goodison Park.

This season the Merseyside derby could not be any closer to call.

Both teams stadiums are separated by the famous Stanley Park, as Goodison sits just 0.9 miles away from Liverpool’s home Anfield. And this year these two clubs, in terms of their ambitions on the field, are also extremely closely situated with both playing attractive free-flowing soccer and aiming for the Champions League. Liverpool are currently in second, while Everton are just three points behind them in sixth heading into the derby.

(PREVIEW: EVERTON vs. LIVERPOOL)

U.S. national team ‘keeper Tim Howard will be aiming to stop Liverpool’s deadly strike duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge on Saturday, as the USMNT veteran believes his 17th taste of the Merseyside derby in the PL will have an extra kick to it following superb starts to the season for both clubs.

“I think it will add something extra,” Howard said with a smile on his face. “I don’t think the derby ever needs extra motivation… but yeah I think both teams have been doing brilliantly. I think we’ve quietly crept in there and Liverpool have stayed quite near the top and we’re maybe one result from really getting to that top level. It will be a really good derby, in that regard.”

Howard, 34, has enjoyed yet another stellar season in goal for the Toffees and is currently on a 240 minute shutout streak which has helped Everton surge towards the top of the table under new manager Roberto Martinez. It will be a landmark day for Howard, as he breaks the club record for the most starts in the Premier League by surpassing David Unsworth’s record of 271 .

WATCH: EVERTON v LIVERPOOL LIVE ON NBCSN AND NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA ON SATURDAY, 7:45am ET

But the USMNT goalkeeper somewhat sheepishly deflects the praise away from his own brilliant performances and suggests the guys in front of him make his job easy.

“The boys have been great,” Howard said. “If we can keep that going in the derby we will all be heroes. The back four has been playing fantastic, obviously Leighton Baines, Sylvan Distin, Phil Jagielka and of course Seamus Coleman. You’re talking about top international players.”

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Tim Howard has been in impressive form for the Toffees this season and believes another top defensive display against Liverpool could hand Everton derby day success.

However, we all know having a solid defensive unit is much more than just the back four and the goalkeeper playing well. Howard points to two new arrivals being influential in Everton’s defensive success.

“We’ve brought in Gareth Barry and James McCarthy, and they’ve been unsung,” Howard said. “Particularly on the ball people have been talking about how good they’ve done, but you have to look at our defensive record in the fact that it’s not just the back four. There’s that defensive six, we play as a unit. Without those guys breaking things up it would be really difficult to keep the defensive rhythm going. It’s good. We’re in a good rhythm, we’re starting to read each others body language, the communication is really good. We will try and keep that up, it’s been positive for us.”

(MORE: U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard agrees governing bodies can help with head injuries)

With Martinez’ new system working well at Everton and the Toffees one of a whole cluster of clubs looking to break into the top four this season, Howard believes this Premier League campaign is the most exciting in recent history.

Howard and Everton are aiming to jump ahead of the jostling pack and bring qualification to the Champions League group stages to Goodison for the first-time in history.

“Everyone always talks about the top four spots and there used to be five teams for that, then six teams and I feel like this year there’s probably eight teams that are really going to push for the top four,” Howard said. “There is going to be a couple of really disappointed teams because there’s only four spots for the Champions League. This season there’s really eight contenders and its impressive.”

Howard has been impressive in every sense of the word this season, can the U.S. ‘keeper and Everton keep it going against Liverpool? If they can, it would send out a huge message that the Toffees will be sticking around at the top of the table.

West Ham extend Payet’s contract in “enormous show of faith”

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet celebrates after scoring while soap bubbles are blown during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Newcastle at Boleyn Ground in London, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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West Ham United hope Dimitri Payet is going absolutely nowhere after the club announced on Thursday the 28-year-old Frenchman has signed a contract extension through the summer of 2021.

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Payet’s current contract was scheduled to keep him at the Premier League club through the summer of 2020, but a series of standout performances (6 goals, 4 assists so far this season, mostly during the season’s opening three months) and rumors of interest from “bigger” clubs meant tacking on another year — and plenty more cash — was the best way to keep Payet in east London for the foreseeable future. The club confirmed earlier this week that negotiations over an extension were underway.

“He’s the best player I’ve signed in 25 years,” said West Ham co-owner David Sullivan. “He’s a [$43 million] player. He’s a supreme footballer. He makes every player in our side play better. On his day, he’s world class, he’s unstoppable.”

Payet, who’s been at West Ham just eight months after signing last summer, could still depart in the summer should he finish the current season strong and/or show up and show out at the European Championship, which kicks off in June. In that event, West Ham would now bag a much heftier transfer fee than they would have done prior to the extension.

VIDEO: Dele Alli’s magnificent juggling goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon

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Remember that Dele Alli goal? No, not that one… that one. Of course you remember it. How could you not?

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How often does a player receive the ball out of the air, flick it over his head, spin 180 degrees and hit an inch-perfect volley from 20 yards out to secure all three points for his team? The answer is, of course, not very often.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal

Thus, a goal such as Alli’s stunning winner against Crystal Palace last month has been, and will continue to be, immortalized through numerous recreations in this Digital Age. Above is Alli’s goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon.

Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

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Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal ]

In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).