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Aug 21, 2014

Tim Howard to take USMNT break

ESPN FC panel reflect on United States Men's National Team goalkeeper, Tim Howard's decision to step away from the USMNT for a year.

Tim Howard will take a one-year break from the United States national team to spend more time with his family, the goalkeeper announced on Thursday.

The 35-year-old Howard is not retiring from international competition and will continue to play for Everton in the English Premier League.

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However, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will not select Howard until September 2015, meaning the goalkeeper will miss next summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.

"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 said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer.

"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."

Tim Howard, left, will not play for the U.S. national team again until September 2015.

In a post on his Facebook page, Howard said he wanted to continue with the national team through the next World Cup in Russia in 2018.

"Physically I feel as strong as ever, and right now my heart, mind, and body all feel good about continuing on with the national team for the next World Cup," he wrote. "It is difficult to predict the situation in four years but I know this decision is right for me today."

Since 2002, Howard has appeared in 104 games for the Yanks, the most of any goalkeeper in U.S. history.

He has been the first-choice keeper since 2007, and has played every minute of the Americans' matches at the previous two World Cups in 2010 and 2014. He also served as a backup to Kasey Keller at the 2006 World Cup.

In Brazil this summer, he was named man of the match twice in matches against Portugal and Belgium and gained international attention in the U.S.' 2-1 defeat in the round of 16 after posting a World Cup-record 15 saves.

Appearing on ESPN's SportsCenter on Thursday, Howard said there is no doubt he will return as soon as his time off is completed.

"In 12 months time, as long as as everything is going right with myself and my club career, which would be the case anyway, that I would be available for selection and be back in the mix and try to do what I've always done. That's never in question," Howard said.

Klinsmann said he supported Howard's decision.

"We had a very good and productive conversation," Klinsmann said in the statement. "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."

Howard is the second prominent U.S. player to take an extended break in the past two years. Landon Donovan took a sabbatical from the sport from December 2012 to March 2013, and though he returned to national team, Klinsmann left him off the final squad that played in Brazil. Howard, however, said the two players' time away should not be compared.

"I don't think as much that they're going to be compared and contrasted. Different circumstances," Howard told SportsCenter.

Klinsmann said Aston Villa's Brad Guzan and Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando will compete for the top spot at the Gold Cup and also mentioned possible replacements to fill Howard's spot on the squad.

"We have young talented goalkeepers with [the Chicago Fire's] Sean Johnson and [D.C. United's] Bill Hamid, who have been brought along the last couple years, so this may give them a chance here and there to get some game time," Klinsmann said. "Always when somebody steps aside for a moment, it gives an opportunity for the next ones in line."

Howard told ESPN FC that the possibility of losing his starting job has always been a concern, even before he decided to step away.

"I've been scared to death about losing my place for the last 10 years. That's an ongoing battle every day. That doesn't change if you take time off, that's the same," Howard said. "I will play for the national team if I'm playing lights-out for Everton and I'm the best goalkeeper. Nothing will change that, that's how it works.

The Americans' first match without Howard will come in a friendly against the Czech Republic on Sept. 3 in Prague.

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