Tim Howard was one of the United States' heroes at this summer's World Cup, and after his performance against Belgium in the round of 16, no one should ever expect him to buy a beer on American soil again.
However, the beloved goalkeeper needs a break and will be taking a year off from international play, according to U.S. Soccer on Twitter:
Howard commented on the decision via a press release at USSoccer.com:
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. I am grateful for the willingness of both Jurgen Klinsmann and Everton manager Roberto Martinez to afford me the opportunity to spend time with my kids. It's the right decision at the right time. Jurgen has always been up front with all the players in saying you have to earn your place, which is something I agree with, so I look forward to coming back next fall and competing for a spot.
Klinsmann also spoke about Howard's decision:
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.
Before USMNT fans panic, it's important to keep a few things in mind.
For starters, the United States has an excellent backup 'keeper in Brad Guzan. Secondly, this hiatus is right after a World Cup and not a year-and-a-half before like Landon Donovan's break from international soccer, which many folks believe Klinsmann never quite forgave him for taking.
After all, the United States was about to play vital qualifying games when Donovan took his break. Such is not the case for Howard. In other words, yes, he'll need to earn his spot back, but no, this shouldn't leave him begging for scraps in Klinsmann's doghouse.
There's something else to consider, per Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated:
U.S. World Cup standout Tim Howard is taking off the next year from international soccer, U.S. Soccer announced Thursday, and my initial reaction is pretty straightforward: OK, he’s earned it.
Howard is 35, and he's coming off an outstanding World Cup in which he almost single-handedly kept the U.S. in its round of 16 game against Belgium with a preposterous 15 saves (FIFA amended the initial 16-save tally after the match). Howard has 104 caps and 55 wins in his international career, the most for a U.S. goalkeeper. He has given plenty to the cause over the years, and given that goalkeepers can stay in their prime longer than field players, there's every reason to think Howard can still compete for the No. 1 spot at World Cup 2018.
It's a fair point. Howard has given everything to the USMNT and is one of the faces of soccer's growth in this country. He's indeed earned this.
Ultimately, it could be good for the United States. Guzan will get his shot and could really increase the intensity of the fight for the starting role once Howard returns to the team. Heck, Guzan might prove he's the better keeper. And Howard will not only come back to international play refreshed, but he'll also have a hunger to play at an elite level if Guzan impresses.
Plus, it will give the USMNT a year to promote and market some of the younger players on the team, while allowing some new veterans to step up and assume a leadership role.
Though fans will miss seeing Howard out on the pitch, it's hard to spin the news of his break as negative for either the country or the player.
In the end, it seems more likely this will ultimately be a positive decision for all sides involved. After an epic World Cup and years of elite service for his country, Howard at least has earned the benefit of the doubt.