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.”

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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.