Tim Howard taking a break from U.S. international duty

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It’s not a retirement, but it is a reassessment, one that shows a new perspective for a man entering the final stage of his career. After a stand out 2014 World Cup, Tim Howard has elected to take a break from United States national team duty, U.S. Soccer announced this afternoon, with family becoming a greater priority for a player who has spent most of his professional life abroad.

“Having played overseas for the last 12 years and missing out on spending time with my family, making this commitment to my family is very important at this time,” Howard explained, in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. “It’s the right decision at the right time.”

That decision will take Howard out of international consideration until September 2015. The 35-year-old will miss up to eight friendlies as well as next summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.

When he returns, his starting spot won’t be guaranteed. Despite that looming challenge from Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan, it’s a policy Howard endorses.

“[Head coach] Jurgen [Klinsmann] has always been up front with all the players in saying you have to earn your place,” Howard noted, “which is something I agree with, so I look forward to coming back next fall and competing for a spot.”

[ RELATED: Opportunity for Guzan, Johnson and Hamid ]
[ RELATED: Howard, Donovan comparisons too thin ]

That there is a firm return date should assuage the notion this will lead to retirement, though with a year of only club duties on his schedule, Howard may find his new life much different from the one he’s lived since debuting for the U.S. 12 years ago.

In that time, the former MetroStars and Manchester United goalkeeper has accumulated a record 104 caps for his national team, starting for the U.S. at the last two World Cups. He’s also enjoyed only periodic breaks, with frequent travel from northern Europe back to the Americas a constant stressor for the U.S. number one.

Jurgen Klinsmann, from U.S. Soccer’s announcement:

“We had a very good and productive conversation. I totally understand Tim’s situation. He was very straight forward and honest in his approach, and I admire him for that. He has a wish to take a step back to take care of his family, and we came to the conclusion that it’s absolutely fine that he takes time off from international soccer until after next summer’s Gold Cup, and then we reevaluate. I told him as long as he is the same Tim Howard that we always see performing well, he will be welcome back with open arms and right back competing for a spot. He knows that he has to prove that he deserves to be back.”

Given Howard’s quality, that shouldn’t be a problem, particularly considering the tests that await this season at Everton. But as we saw when Landon Donovan took a break from soccer in early 2013, even the biggest stars leave with no guarantees.

Thankfully, Howard’s not taking a break from soccer. He’s just taking a break from the international game, for now.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”