The last time many fans of soccer in the United States saw Tim Howard it was likely when he was standing on his head against Belgium in the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup. On Friday, it was announced that Howard will be taking a break from the United States national team.
Howard explained his decision and the process he’ll go through coming back to this team in a statement released by U.S. Soccer:
“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.”
USMNT fans’ thoughts likely turned immediately to the break taken by Landon Donovan from October of 2012 to the summer of 2013. Yet, these two situations couldn’t be further from each other if you put them on opposite sides of the globe.
In the case of Tim Howard, he is taking this time off to spend it with his family and it’s something worked out between him and the USMNT coaching staff. For Donovan, it was a selfish choice to try and recharge the batteries without ever consulting anyone from U.S. Soccer in the process.
He left the United States national team high and dry right as World Cup qualifying was entering the critical stages and it wasn’t until the Gold Cup that year that Donovan was called back in to the squad — a squad he led to the title.
On the other hand, Howard waited until after the World Cup and is taking this sabbatical during a time when the United States national team doesn’t have a lot of important games on its slate.
Simply put, Howard left the USMNT when it needed him least…Donovan left his national team when it could’ve used him most.
Just about the only similarity between the two players and their situations is the fact that both gave up a lot to represent their country on the international stage before going on sabbatical.
Think about this bit of information for a minute: Tim Howard has not had a summer without USMNT duty since 2005.
The following year he was the backup to Kasey Keller at the 2006 World Cup, which was followed up by the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2007, World Cup qualifying in 2008, World Cup qualifying and the Confederations Cup in 2009, the 2010 World Cup, 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying in 2012 and 2013 and then the 2014 World Cup.
For a player who’s club duties have also meant playing abroad, that’s a lot of wear and tear and little family time. This decision becomes a lot more understandable for the 35-year-old.
It’s also understandable since Howard has been playing at the highest level of club football, the English Premier League, for almost a decade as well.
One has to respect the way Howard has approached this break and the fact that he wants more time with his family. After all, playing soccer is just a job…just like whatever you or I do on a daily basis.
There’s also the silver lining of him stepping aside for a year — the USMNT can now get a solid look at both Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando over the next 12 months.
Now, it remains to be seen if Howard’s choice will cost him the No. 1 starting goalkeeper job. That’s just how talented the United States is at the position.