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.

El Tri star Lozano staying focusing amid Barcelona rumors

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Hirving “Chucky” Lozano was a player everyone needed to pay attention to heading into the 2018 World Cup, and through two matches, the El Tri star has been every bit the price of admission for his country.

[ MORE: Group scenarios heading into the final group stage matches ]

Mexico sits atop Group F with six points at the moment, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to Lozano’s endless motor and creative attacking vision when he finds space down the wing.

The PSV Eindhoven attacker has been linked with various big clubs, including La Liga giants Barcelona, but that hasn’t halted Lozano’s pursuit of guiding Mexico to an unprecedented run at the World Cup.

“The important thing is to focus on the next [Mexico] game, do as well as possible and go step by step,” Lozano said.

Despite winning their first two games, El Tri needs at least a point in its final Group F match to ensure qualification without any complications.

Mexico will take on Sweden on Wednesday, as Juan Carlos Osorio’s side aims to remain perfect in the group stage.

Meanwhile, Andres Guardado — who has been a mainstay of the Mexican national team for years — only confirmed the work ethic of his teammate and hopes that a dream move becomes a reality for Lozano in the near future.

“It makes me very proud to say he is a kid that is very centered, despite everything he is going through,” said Guardado after Saturday’s 2-1 win over South Korea. “He is conscious that he has to continue like he’s not achieved anything.”

“He’s the same kid I met the first time he came with us,” continued Guardado. “Hopefully he stays like that and the rumors about a possible transfer to a big team become reality. It would be marvelous, he’s a great teammate.”

Video: Salah lob has Egypt off and running in first half

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Egypt’s run at the World Cup didn’t go according to plan, but the Pharaohs are looking in control on Monday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Mohamed Salah‘s second goal of the tournament has given the Egyptians a 1-0 lead over Saudi Arabia in their Group A finale.

After a Saudi giveaway in the attacking half of the field, Salah latched onto a beautiful long ball from Abdallah Said, before lofting a shot over goalkeeper Yasser Al Mosailem.

Video: Suarez gives Uruguay early lead over hosts Russia

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It only took Uruguay 10 minutes to break through, and the South American side could be on its way to capturing a third consecutive victory at the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Barcelona star Luis Suarez scored his second goal of the tournament on Monday, as the veteran striker gave Uruguay the lead early on against hosts Russia.

Suarez stepped up for a free kick just outside the penalty area, and slotted the ball brilliantly past the Russia goalkeeper at his near post.

Both teams have already advanced out of Group A after winning their first two matches, however, Monday’s victor (if there is one) will likely decide who tops the group.

Argentine players likely selecting lineup for Nigeria match

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The Albiceleste entered Russia among the favorites to win the World Cup, but now Argentina is on the brink of disaster and possibly crashing out of the group stage.

Through two Group D matches, Argentina sits on one point, and needs a victory over Nigeria to have a shot at advancing to the knockout phase.

Drastic changes appear to be coming for the CONMEBOL nation, after relations with manager Jorge Sampaoli have soured significantly over the last week-and-a-half.

Rumors have suggested that Lionel Messi and the elder players in the squad will select the starting XI for Argentina’s do-or-die fixture on Tuesday, with Sampaoli simply staying on as manager to avoid further embarrassment to the federation.

Sampaoli is expected to still be on the sidelines for the match, though.

Meanwhile, Argentine television outlet TNT Sports LA revealed a potential lineup ahead of Tuesday’s Group D finale against Nigeria.

The starting XI, if true, would feature four changes from the Albiceleste’s 3-0 defeat to Croatia last Thursday, including the introduction of River Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani for Chelsea’s Willy Caballero.