Howard’s international sabbatical means opportunity for Guzan, Johnson and Hamid

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Tim Howard is the most-capped goalkeeper in U.S. national team history, something that defaults him into a conversation with Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller as the best this country has ever produced. Even if he had fewer caps, the New Jersey-born keeper would still merit a place in that discussion. There just aren’t many Americans who’ve carved out indispensable places at a prominent English clubs.

The importance of that place was reaffirmed last season, when Everton extended Howard’s contract through the 2017-18 season. Not only is the U.S. international valuable in the present, but given his current level, physical state, and work ethic, Roberto Martínez was willing to bet on the then 34-year-old’s future. When Russia 2018 arrives, Howard may still be between the sticks at Goodison Park.

That is the only place we’ll find the U.S. veteran this year, with U.S. Soccer announcing Thursday that the former MetroStars and Manchester United goalkeeper is taking a 13-month break from the national team. Between now and a potential Sept. 2015 return, Howard will miss up to eight friendlies as well as next summer’s confederation championship: the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

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For those hoping Howard would survive as U.S. number one through the next cycle, the news is reason for concern. Though he’s going to stay active with Everton, his time away from the team abdicates his starting job. When, at 36, he returns next year, he’ll have to unseat whomever claims his spot.

source: Getty ImagesThat person will almost certainly be Brad Guzan (right)  – the long-time number two who filled in ably when called on in World Cup qualifying. An established starter for Aston Villa, Guzan’s elite reflexes have earned a contingent of support that feels he should get a shot, regardless. While that view doesn’t appear to be shared by Klinsmann (nor was it by his predecessors), Guzan has inspired confidence.

He’ll be the presumed starter for the U.S.’s upcoming friendlies. Come next summer, he should be the number one when the U.S. tries to qualify for the Confederations Cup. With a steady run as the team’s lead shot-stopper, Guzan will have every opportunity to cement the starting job. If Howard reclaims the role in September, the decision will quell any notion the Villa man deserves the job.

Farther down the depth chart, Howard’s decision creates a potentially more interesting battle – one that features two contenders, rather than a contender and a star on leave. With Nick Rimando presumably moving into the backup’s role, Chicago’s Sean Johnson may have the lead on the third keeper’s position, but given the strong season from long-time rival Bill Hamid, Johnson’s ascension may not be guaranteed.

source: Getty ImagesEach keeper, both viable beyond the 2018 cycle, have their strong points, the details of which become tedious when you break them down. Everybody seems to emphasize different qualities in their keepers, but in terms of U.S. national team hopes, what matters is Klinsmann’s view. Though that view could change, Johnson (right) appears to be slightly in front of Hamid, albeit on very limited evidence.

But still, we are at the beginning of a new World Cup cycle – a new frontier. Perhaps the team’s outlook will embrace that new, expansive future? Maybe there are other players, perhaps a Cody Cropper, that will have a say. Maybe, in light of this group of young keepers, it’s time to move way from Rimando and give more time (in games, in camps) to players who will step in once Guzan versus Howard is done?

Or maybe we should let the chips fall where they may. One thing that May taught us (and taught us good): Predicting Jurgen Klinsmann’s mindset is a fool’s errand. Guzan looks set to start, while one of Hamid or Johnson may see more time with the squad, but given what we saw this summer, we shouldn’t get used to our assumptions.

Steven Gerrard didn’t want any part of Coutinho in training

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Steven Gerrard has issued some fairly hilarious comments regarding former Liverpool teammate Philippe Coutinho.

The Premier League legend admits there were days in training that the sight of the Brazilian wizard on the other side of the pitch made him lash out.

[ MORE: Palace fans must be patient ]

It seems Gerrard wanted nothing to do with marking Coutinho in small-sided games, and the idea of “Stevie G” spouting off in frustration when Brendan Rodgers posted Coutinho across from him is a wonderful mental picture.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He’s impossible to defend against,” Gerrard told BT Sport after Saturday’s game.

“I mean when I used to train against him, I’d hate it if I was on the opposite five-a-side team. I wouldn’t go near him. And sometimes I’d say to him: ‘Keep away from me! He can embarrass you [as a defender]. He can stand you up, he can both ways, he’s got such a low centre of gravity. He’s sharp, he’s quick and he’s two or three steps ahead of defenders. He’s so, so clever.”

Again, the vision of Gerrard throwing his hands up with a “Nope, not having this today” is amazing. Even if exaggerated, we love it. We picture that old meme with the office worked tossing papers through the air.

Patience with Hodgson required by Palace

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Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is 0-2 in his new gig and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t exactly within touching distance.

The latest defeat is a 5-0 blowout at Manchester City, and the immediate road ahead is sobering: at Manchester United and home to Chelsea. Following a trip to Newcastle, who is in form, the Eagles have matches vs. West Ham, at Spurs, and versus Everton.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Palace is 0-6 overall and the first team in the history of the Premier League to go goalless through its first six matches.

Palace fired Frank De Boer after four league matches and a summer in which the club failed to add much to its squad.

And Hodgson is feeling his way through the dark. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this is the timing of Palace’s change.

From the BBC:

“I am learning about the team all the time and they are learning,” said Hodgson.

“Our focus has to be in May. By the latter part of the season the players must know what we are looking for. They should feel stronger by then.”

To be shooting for May has to be overwhelming for the Selhurst Park faithful but may indicate their most reasonable promise of life in the Premier League.

Palace fans cannot afford to get caught up in how Sam Allardyce saved them a year ago, because his turnaround coincided with the Eagles’ purchases of Luka MilivojevicMamadou Sakho, and Patrick Van Aanholt. An influx of talent does not save a season alone, but we’re fairly sure Alan Pardew would’ve relished the chance to work with two new backs and a stabilizing center midfielder.

Remember that Allardyce then retired, which says something given his willingness to bask in any light in which he can claim a modicum of credit.

So Hodgson, known for his relentless training methods, needs to be given his time. Palace will likely have at-most one point after the next two PL matches, and they may have not scored yet. History can be daunting, but supporters need to exhale and realize the road ahead is long.

Kenya loses hosting rights to 2018 African Nations Championship

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) Kenya has been stripped of the right to host the 2018 African Nations Championship.

The Confederation of Africa Football cited “accumulated delays” in Kenya’s preparations for the tournament, which is the continental championship for players playing in their home leagues.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

CAF made the decision to take the tournament away from Kenya at an executive committee meeting in Accra, Ghana, on Saturday and opened the bidding process for a new host on Sunday. CAF says applications must be received by next Sunday and the new host will be announced in just over two weeks.

The African Nations Championship is scheduled to be played from Jan. 12-Feb. 4.

Kenya’s preparations for the 16-team tournament were already troubled before August when its presidential elections were nullified and a re-vote was ordered. That re-vote is scheduled for next month, and the political instability has meant preparations for the soccer tournament have been undermined.

CAF also says it is opening a tender process to recruit an audit firm to examine Cameroon’s preparations for the 2019 African Cup of Nations, Africa’s top soccer event.

Like Kenya, Cameroon’s readiness to host the Cup of Nations has been under scrutiny. CAF says it needs to examine the state of Cameroon’s “infrastructure to host the tournament,” with the 2019 Cup of Nations the first to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

MLS Snapshot: Red-hot RSL end Sounders’ unbeaten run at 13

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The game in 100 words (or less): With the Seattle Sounders’ 13-game unbeaten run now a thing of the past (and the final four of those games all draws), Real Salt Lake (two losses in their last two, including wins in four of their last five) might just be the hottest team in MLS not named Atlanta United (just one loss in their last 12, including wins in three of their last four; combined score: 17-3). Furthermore, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium boosts RSL into fifth place in the Western Conference, two points clear of the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, as Mike Petke’s side makes this year’s improbable, late charge toward the MLS Cup Playoffs, in much the same fashion Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders did a year ago. Jefferson Savarino, who scored one and assisted one on Saturday, has proven himself a star on the rise in recent weeks, and has RSL playing their best soccer of the year at exactly the right time.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

52′ — Savarino slams home Rusnak’s pass for 1-0 — RSL have themselves an attacking trio (Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Brooks Lennon) that loves to play together, and that joy really shines brightly in moments like this.

66′ — Mulholland slams home from Savarino’s cross for 2-0 — Savarino turned provider just 15 minutes later, getting in behind Joevin Jones, corralling Joao Plata’s through ball, and picking out Mulholland atop the six-yard box.

92′ — Rimando makes a stunning save to deny Dempsey — Clint Dempsey tried to sneak a quick free kick past Nick Rimando, but the all-time greatest goalkeeper in MLS history was over it.

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Man of the match: Jefferson Savarino

Goalscorers: Savarino (52′), Mulholland (66′)