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USMNT’s Tim Howard on respect, MLS, Copa America hopes

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STOKE-ON-TRENT — Tim Howard‘s time in the Premier League and at Everton is almost up.

Howard, 37, will leave Everton this summer to return to Major League Soccer after agreeing a contract with the Colorado Rapids beginning on July 1.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

After spending 13 years in England with Manchester United and Everton — Howard joined the Toffees in 2006 — he’s seen the perception of American players in England change.

Standing pitch-side as part of NBC Sports’ broadcast team for Tottenham’s 4-0 win over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Monday, Howard looks relaxed and is all smiles as he talks about the growing respect for the game he loves back in the U.S.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

But as he enters his final few weeks in England, are players from the U.S. national team finally getting the respect they deserve in England?

“I think so, we’ve had a few players come over and have success but it is still tough,” Howard said. “It is still an uphill battle for an American player to come over and really gain respect in a European league but slowly but surely we will keep making progress.”

With Howard leaving the PL and his fellow USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan relegated to the second-tier with Aston Villa, for the first time in decades it seems highly likely there won’t be a U.S. goalkeeper in the PL. Before Howard and Guzan you had Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller flying the flag but to date only three full USMNT internationals — Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Miazga — will be in England’s top-flight next season. Even Yedlin and Miazga’s status as PL players next season seems in doubt.

The days of Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and Howard as mainstays in the PL are over. A new era for Americans in England has arrived.

Is Howard feeling emotional about leaving Everton and returning to his homeland?

“Everton is my home but all good things come to an end,” Howard said, nodding his head. “I am someone who has the ability to, thankfully, be grateful for my experiences and move on. That’s life. Everton will always be my home.”

With an FA Cup semifinal coming up this weekend against Man United at Wembley and five more PL games, Howard is likely to get one final swansong in goal for Roberto Martinez’s men. After that, it will be a busy few months for the New Jersey native.

After the PL concludes on May 15 he will then, presumably, head back to the U.S. to be part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad for the 2016 Copa America Centenario and after that tournament he will get to Colorado and begin a new chapter, the final one, in his distinguished playing career.

“It is one thing after another,” laughed Howard. “I finish here, then go to training camp with the national team and obviously we have a huge tournament which is important for us. When that finishes I will go out to Denver and start life.”

Howard’s life, at least in popular U.S. culture, is likely to be defined by his stunning display against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup Round of 16 defeat in extra time. After recording a record 15 saves in a single World Cup game, Howard’s stature as the most well-known current USMNT player was cemented.

It is likely the USMNT will need similar heroics from Howard this summer as Klinsmann’s side were drawn in Group A of the expanded Copa America tournament, alongside Paraguay, Colombia and Costa Rica.

“Any time you come to a major tournament like this, we know who is in front of us. We have those three games and we feel like it is a tough group but our team is resilient,” Howard explained. “We showed that in the World Cup. When it comes to major tournaments we know how to navigate through the group so we will try to get ourselves out of a very tough group and then we don’t know who are next opponent is. We will just keep moving forward. The one thing about the U.S. team is that when the bell rings, you put someone out in front of us and we go out and do it.”

With Howard set to leave behind cold, windy nights at Stoke for life back in MLS, we joked about the snowy conditions out in Colorado last weekend as his new team recorded a 2-1 win over New York Red Bulls and continued their hot start to the season. He is excited about the fresh challenge awaiting him.

A lot has changed in MLS since Howard left in 2003.

“I think the quality of play has gotten better. The fanbase has grown and is more knowledgeable,” Howard said. “Some of the players that have gone back over, this ain’t a retirement league. Now you have players going over like [Sebastian] Giovinco, he is incredible. Giovani dos Santos, probably one of the top Mexican players of all time who is playing there in his prime. That’s exciting because for me, when I was a 21-year-old in MLS, that wasn’t the case.”

Howard believes bringing players over in their prime and especially targeting the top U.S. talent in Europe is the way forward for MLS.

“Yeah, continue to bring guys home,” Howard said. “The top U.S. players and the top international players. That is making the league better, for sure.”

Howard’s arrival back in MLS will be a banner moment for North America’s top-flight. But after plying his trade in the Premier League for over a decade, he will be missed in England.

Even though U.S. players in Europe have a long way to go to gain more respect, without Howard’s performances and presence they’d be much further behind.

Watch Live: Tottenham-Brighton, Watford-Southampton

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Two Premier League matches with European implications take the field on this Tuesday afternoon as Tottenham hosts Brighton & Hove Albion while Watford welcomes Southampton to Vicarage Road.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE HERE

Spurs will look to rebuild its lead in the race for the Champions League places in the table’s top four. With Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United all neck-and-neck vying for two spots, the other 3 teams all dropped points this round, leaving Tottenham with a brilliant opportunity to gain ground in third. They’ll go against a desperate 17th-placed Brighton, fighting for its life at the bottom of the table. The Seagulls sit as the last team safe, three points above Cardiff City looking for any kind of a result in a tough road matchup to build the lead over the drop to two games.

Watford, meanwhile, will look to keep pace with Everton in the race for the final Europa League position. The Hornets could guarantee themselves a spot in Europe should they finish seventh, knowing that they would qualify either via the FA Cup or their position in the table. They currently sit eighth, level on points with the Toffees, but back on goal differential. A win or draw against Southampton would restore the slim lead over a red-hot Everton side that is finishing the season strong and pressuring Watford for that final European spot. Southampton sits in 16th on 36 points, five above the relegation zone, and a win today would all but ensure Premier League survival.


Tottenham Hotspur v. Brighton & Hove Albion — 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Tottenham: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose, Wanyama, Eriksen, Dele, Son, Lucas, Llorente.
Bench: Gazzaniga, Davies, Foyth, Sanchez, Dier, Skipp, Janssen.

Brighton: Ryan, Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo, Stephens, Bissouma, Gross, Jahanbakhsh, Andone, Locadia.
Bench: Button, Burn, Bong, Balogun, Kayal, March, Murray.


Watford v. Southampton — 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Watford: Foster, Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Masina, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes, Deulofeu, Pereyra, Gray.
Bench: Gomes, Britos, Mariappa, Success, Femena, Chalobah, Sema.

Southampton: Gunn, Bertrand, Bednarek, Yoshida, Stephens, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Armstrong, Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Long.
Bench: Forster, Vallery, Ramsay, Lemina, Sims, Ings, Austin.

Newcastle focused on extending Bentiez despite interest from others

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According to a report by the Newcastle Chronicle, Newcastle United is desperately trying to lock down manager Rafa Benitez before the expiration of his contract at the end of June, and is rejecting any and all contact from interested parties in a show of good faith to the club’s current boss.

The report states that the latest interested party to have intermediaries make contact has been former United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but the club has to this point turned down his advances while it continues to push towards an extension with Benitez. The report by the Newcastle Chronicle followed up an earlier report by France Football stating the same.

Sporting director Lee Charnley has been attempting to sign Benitez to an extension for nearly two years, but the Spaniard has reportedly turned down all advances to this point. However with Newcastle United over the 40-point threshold usually required for safety, talks have restarted. Benitez has been reportedly asking for more control over the club’s transfer and recruitment process and wants assurances on financial backing in that department.

Still, should talks break down and Benitez moves on, a number of individuals including Klinsmann have made their interest known. Also linked with the position are David Wagner, Bruno Genesio, and Jorge Jesus.

The relationship between Benitez and the front office has not always been rosy, and Mike Ashley’s stinginess has repeatedly been a point of contention for the Spaniard. Still, Benitez is rightly seen as one of Newcastle’s most valuable assets, and if they can convince him to stick with the club through a season in the Championship, they can certainly figure out a way to keep him aboard as they target a top-half finish in the future.

How will Man City and Man United line up for critical derby?

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There is as much on the line in Wednesday’s Manchester derby than anyone could have hoped for, and the enormous stakes will only feed the excitement on the pitch.

Whereas these big matches often end in cagey draws in the first half of the season with little incentive for the teams to do anything other than avoid losing, a draw won’t do for either side this time around, and there could be goals on the cards. So with everything on the line, how will these teams line up on the field?

[ MORE: Hudson-Odoi injury renews contract talks ]

There are injuries to consider on both sides. Pep Guardiola confirmed that Kevin De Bruyne will not be available tomorrow for Manchester City after his injury against Tottenham left the rest of his season in doubt. Manchester United, meanwhile, will reportedly be without defender Phil Jones after he was withdrawn in the heavy defeat to Everton last time out. Other than that, both squads are fully healthy minus the long-term injury to City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

The biggest question for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be how to deploy his back line against the vicious Manchester City attack – particularly on the flanks. He left Ashley Young on the bench each of the last two matches, with natural center-backs Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo deputizing at full-back, but that experiment could come to an end with Luke Shaw returning from suspension. In Jones’ absence, Rojo or Lindelof could be moved back to the middle, or Solskjaer could bring Eric Bailly back into the fold after failling to see the field in the last two months. The midfield has also been a conglomeration, with the third spot up in the air next to Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. Fred and Juan Mata have both seen time, but Ander Herrera will be reportedly returning from his injury and could see the field.

[ MORE: Solskjaer hoping for turnaround ]

For Manchester City, Guardiola’s headache will be constructing his midfield without De Bruyne. He has had Fernandinho in and out of the lineup over the last few weeks due to nagging injuries, and it remains to be seen if he utilizes the defensive midfielder to anchor the formation. Ilkay Gundogan has played deeper when Fernandinho has been absent, and he’s played well in that spot, but at times they still seem to be missing a natural anchor, and it was Fernandinho who came in to replace De Bruyne after his injury.


MANCHESTER UNITED

—– De Gea —–

— Dalot — Rojo — Smalling — Shaw —

—- Matic —- Herrera —-

—- Martial —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —–


MANCHESTER CITY

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Stones — Laporte — Zinchenko —

—– Fernandinho —–

—- Gundogan —- Foden —-

— B Silva —- Aguero — Sterling —


Report: Chelsea to renew contract talks with injured Hudson-Odoi

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According to a report by Matt Law of The Telegraph, Chelsea is gearing up to offer Callum Hudson-Odoi a new contract after the young English international ruptured his Achilles against Burnley on Monday.

Despite Maurizio Sarri‘s stubbornness this season regarding the young winger, Hudson-Odoi has forced himself into the regular Chelsea lineup as the Blues fight for a Champions League place down the stretch of the season. The 18-year-old had started the last four matches before the injury ended his season early.

Due to his inability to crack the lineup before the last month, Hudson-Odoi had reportedly handed in a transfer request and rejected all contract offers with the hopes of finding a new home where he would be more appreciated on the pitch. There were multiple reports that Bayern Munich was heavily interesed in Hudson-Odoi and that the German giants were preparing to make an enticing offer with the youngster’s current contract set to expire next summer. Now, however, things have turned in Chelsea’s favor in the long-term.

According to the Telegraph report, Bayern’s interest in Hudson-Odoi is likely to cool thanks to the injury that will likely see him miss the summer and the start of the next campaign. With this opportunity, Chelsea could come to Hudson-Odoi with a renewed contract offer that reflects his status as a first-team regular.

Hudson-Odoi’s Achilles tear is a brutal blow to Chelsea this season, with the club entrenched in a brutal battle with Tottenham, Arsenal, and Manchester United for the Premier League’s final two Champions League places, as all teams sit within three points of each other. Chelsea is also still fighting on another front as well, as the Blues have secured a place in the Europa League semifinals. While Hudson-Odoi only just recently cracked the Blues’ league lineup, he had been a regular in the Europa League rotation, scoring four goals in his nine European appearances this season.

Still, there could be a significant silver lining to his injury. Considering the likely departure of Eden Hazard this summer plus uncertainty around Chelsea’s ability to sign players in the coming transfer window, securing Hudson-Odoi’s future at the club could be an enormous boost long-term, even with the injury leaving him sidelined for a significant amount of time. Christian Pulisic is arriving this summer thanks to an already-completed deal with Borussia Dortmund, but the two players are more natural on opposite sides of the pitch and could potentially play together. In addition, should a transfer ban come down on the Blues, the club may not even be able to register Pulisic for the first half of the season, leaving an even bigger hole in the squad.

Before the injury, it appeared there was no way back for Callum Hudson-Odoi at his boyhood club. Having joined the club in 2007 when he was just six years old, keeping the teen around long-term would be monumentally positive news for Chelsea moving forward, even if the injury is devastating in the short-term.