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.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

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Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

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A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.

 

Serie A: Lukaku brace helps Inter win shootout, AC Milan caught late

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Inter Milan kept pace with Juventus atop the Serie A table with an exciting 4-3 win on the road at Sassuolo. Romelu Lukaku scored a brace, as did Lautaro Martinez to go up 4-1 with 20 minutes to go, although the visitors nearly coughed up the big lead.

Martinez opened the scoring just two minutes in with a far-post snipe, but Domenico Berardi leveled things back up before the 20-minute mark. Lukaku put Inter back in front on 38 minutes, taking a feed down the center from Stefan de Vrij and posting up Federico Peluso before producing a strong turn and finish. He hit again from the penalty spot just after halftime after Martinez was hauled down in the box, and the Argentinian got his second also from the spot on 71 minutes to go three goals in front. The win moved Inter back to just a point behind leaders Juve.

Krzysztof Piatek struck in the 81st minute to seemingly rescue AC Milan, but Lecce hit back in the 92nd minute to earn a 2-2 draw at the San Siro. Goals from Hakan Calhanoglu and Khouma Babacar had cancelled each other out by the hour mark, but Piatek was on hand to bag his third of the season after Calhanoglu did the hard work down the right. Marco Calderoni was on hand to pip the hosts, however, with a last-gasp strike from distance that found the back of the net and gave AC Milan yet another disappointing result, having won just once in its last five games.

Roma was held to a scoreless draw on the road at Sampdoria, with Justin Kluivert seeing red on a pair of cautions and leaving the visitors to finish the match with 10 men. Roma held 65% possession throughout the match, but managed just a single shot on target amid their nine efforts. Edin Dzeko began the match on the bench, and while he came on at halftime, he did little to change Roma’s fortunes. The draw leaves Roma with just one win over its last four matches, sitting sixth in table, nine points back of the top.

Parma hammered Genoa 5-1 behind a hat-trick from Danish international Andreas Cornelius. The 26-year-old came on in the 12th minute for an injured Roberto Inglese and scored all three goals in an eight-minute stretch that bracketed halftime. The second was a vicious half-volley that impressively rippled the netting. He got his third in the 50th minute by beating Ionut Radu at his near post with a low blast.

Cagliari continued its impressive start to the season with a comprehensive 2-0 win over SPAL. The first goal came inside the opening 10 minutes on a rip-roaring thunderbolt by Radja Nainggolan from miles out, a candidate for Goal of the Season. You can watch the goal here.

Udinese pulled away from the bottom third with a 1-0 win over Torino at home. 30-year-old Stefano Okaka scored the game’s lone goal just before halftime, nodding in with his head while essentially standing right on top of the left post after Rolando Mandragora sent a looping header of his own that way.

Joao Felix injured, but not as bad as feared

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Atletico Madrid will be without its teenage sensation for a few weeks, but will still breathe a sigh of relief.

Joao Felix limped off in the 78th minute of the 1-1 draw with Valencia on Saturday, leaving Atleti with 10 men with all substitutes having been used. Simeone after the match said the medical staff believed the injury was “serious” but later that day scans showed just a Grade II ankle sprain, meaning Felix will miss approximately two to three weeks according to a report by Spanish publication AS.

Felix has been critical to the otherwise anemic Atletico Madrid attack, scoring two goals and assisting another. The team has bagged just three total goals over the last six matches, being held off the scoresheet in four of those games.

The injury means Felix will miss a Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen plus league matches against Athletic Bilbao, Alaves and Sevilla. AS reports that he could be back at the start of November when Atletico plays the reverse Champions League group stage fixture with Bayer.

The 19-year-old arrived at the Wanda Metripolitana this past summer for an enormous $140 million fee.