Tim Howard hails “special moment”, lauds team spirit, as US advance

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One of the USA’s World Cup heroes joined NBC’s Today Show on Friday, watch the video here, as veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard was interviewed live from the team hotel in Sao Paulo following their qualification to the knockout stages.

Howard, 35, put in yet another stunning display for the Star and Stripes as they lost to Germany 1-0 on Thursday, but advanced to the Round of 16 thanks to Portugal’s 2-1 defeat of Ghana.

[ RELATED: US reach last 16 of the WC despite defeat ]

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Speaking about the monumental achievement of making it out of the “Group of Death” and on to play Belgium in the last 16 on Tuesday, Howard tried to sum up the emotions in the U.S. locker room directly after the match.

“[The feeling] was just excitement,” Howard said. “I think we are all pretty drained. It has been intense, as you can imagine, so there was excitement and we are really proud of each other. It is a special moment when teams advance in the World Cup because that is your first step.”

Howard was then asked about the awful weather conditions in Recife and how that impacted the USA’s approach vs. Germany.

“I live in Manchester… so to be impressed by rain it must have been heavy!” Howard laughed. “It makes you concentrate more, when the elements are against you. You focus in and I think that helps, really.”

Asked if the U.S. players on the pitch knew what the score was in the Ghana vs. Portugal game that was going on simultaneously, Howard revealed how it all went down.

“I knew, some of the other players know,” Howard said. “It varies. Some of our guys didn’t want to know, the coach didn’t really want to tell us but we needed to find out because the result was so important and made a difference in our match.”

Howard made five stops in the 1-0 defeat to Germany, as the U.S. defended for their lives knowing that a heavy defeat for them could spell disaster if Ghana or Portugal went goal-crazy in the other match. Howard was called into action time and time again in the box as Germany’s relentless attacking machine clicked through the gears, especially early on.

“I just tried to be ultra-focused,” Howard said. “Often, it comes down to a teams goalkeeper. Germany is a top team and probably the best team in the world. If not, they are first or second, so we knew we would be tested as a defense and I come into that role and try to play my part. It was a good feeling when the game was over!”

Asked about the incredible TV audiences and support shown across the country for the U.S. national team and their heroics in Brazil, Howard admitted the team has been taken back by the levels of interest in their World Cup exploits.

“We have been blown away by the response down here,” Howard said. “We have seen everything through our families, social media, the things we get on TV down here. It is a true testament to how far soccer has come in this country. People are so excited, leaving work early, and the country is stopping to watch us and that is what they do all around the world.”

Bayern signs Germany midfielder Goretzka from rival Schalke

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka on Friday on a free transfer from Bundesliga rival Schalke effective from next season.

Bayern said the 22-year-old Goretzka signed a four-year deal from July 1 through June 2022.

Schalke, which Goretzka joined in 2013 from hometown club Bochum, said the player informed the club this week of his wish to join Bayern when his contract expired.

[ MORE: Bundesliga scores ]

“We think we did everything in the last months to convince Leon to stay with us,” Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel said. “In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Schalke had long been engaged in trying to get Goretzka to extend his contract, but was aware of reported interest from Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

“We’re very happy that Leon Goretzka, a German international with big potential, has decided in favor of Bayern despite big-name international competitors. This way it’s ensured that Leon Goretzka remains in the Bundesliga,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Goretzka scored 19 goals and set up 13 more in 130 appearances for Schalke.

The club had previously expressed its displeasure with Bayern making public statements about its player after Goretzka was praised by sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heidel said “we don’t need to hear every day from the Munich people how good our player is.”

Goretzka has six goals in 12 games for Germany.

Pele hospitalized overnight in Brazil

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The most famous soccer player in the world had a scare last night as he was hospitalized in Brazil for “severe exhaustion.”

Pele, 77, was set to travel to London this weekend to be honored by the Football Writers Association, though it looks like that trip has now been postponed.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Pele collapsed and was taken to a hospital in Brazil where he has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion,” a FWA statement said. “He remains on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery.

“Thankfully, there is no suggestion of anything more serious than exhaustion.”

Here’s to hoping Pele makes a full recovery.

[MORE: USMNT centerback heads to Championship club]

USMNT centerback Carter-Vickers heads to Ipswich Town on loan

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Cameron Carter-Vickers has a new club to call home for the next five months or so after a rough first half of the season.

Tottenham announced Friday morning that it had loaned the U.S. Men’s National Team centerback to Championship club Ipswich Town for the rest of the season. Carter-Vickers spent the first five months of the season at fellow Championship side Sheffield United, starting 17 times though he struggled recently as Sheffield won just one game he played in during the month of December, losing three and drawing one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Carter-Vickers was then recalled earlier this week and now has a new home with a mid-table Championship club, with a new chance to impress. Hopefully Carter-Vickers can recover his form and continue to grow, potentially latching on to another Premier League side next year or breaking into the Tottenham first team.

There’s another interesting American tie-in to this. Carter-Vickers appears to be a short-term replacement for Ipswich Town’s Tommy Smith, who the club states is headed to join the Colorado Rapids ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

Sanchez, Mkhitaryan transfer still up in the air

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The player-swap/trade/transfer between Arsenal and Manchester United still appears to be heading towards completion, but it was further delayed Friday.

Multiple reports in England state that while Alexis Sanchez seems set to move to Manchester United, Henrik Mkhitaryan has yet to agree to move the other way, as talks between the player’s agent and Arsenal continue. Mkhitaryan was seen training at Manchester United’s practice facility on Friday, and because the latest delay, both players would be unable to debut for their new teams this weekend after missing the Premier League registration deadline.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks]

Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace Manchester United travels to Burnley, both on Saturday at 10 a.m. (Watch Arsenal live on CNBC, Manchester United live on NBCSN, and both live on NBCSports.com)

The London Evening Standard reports that Mkhitaryan would command a $242,000-per-week salary but that as of Friday morning he had yet to undergo a medical for the transfer. Arsenal reportedly still wants a transfer fee included for Sanchez, while Manchester United would prefer to just swap the two players.

It’s also looking as if that won’t be Arsenal’s only business in the transfer market. While it seemed like a far-fetched rumor at first, the links between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal have only grown stronger in the past few days, and the Gabon international appears to be in the Gunners sights. It appears that Bordeaux’s young striker Malcolm is now off the table.