Howard near decision on U.S. future

Tim Howard is inching closer to deciding whether to continue playing with the U.S. national team, the World Cup hero told ESPN FC in a phone interview this week.

The 35-year-old Everton goalkeeper, who earned plaudits from around the globe following his World Cup-record 15-save performance in the Americans' heartbreaking round of 16 loss against Belgium earlier this month, was noncommittal about his future immediately following the Yanks' elimination in Brazil.

But Howard indicated that his international future could be determined soon after he returns to his Premier League club on Aug. 3, when he'll consult with Everton manager Roberto Martinez and U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

"I'm slightly closer to a decision," Howard, who debuted for the U.S. in 2002, said. "What the team is capable of at Russia 2018 excites me, so it's tough. I just need to bounce a few ideas off some relevant people and make sure I have a clear decision on what path I want to go. It's very difficult because how I feel now, I'm not sure I'll feel [that way] in four years. But I also recognise that when I do make that decision I have to be certain, or at least as certain as I can be."

Asked if that meant he was leaning toward sticking around, Howard, who in April signed a contract extension with Everton that expires on the eve of the next World Cup, insisted he could still go either way.

"I think it would be accurate to say I'm leaning both directions," he said. "Like I said, a lot of it's going to be determined by when I speak to Jurgen, when I speak to Roberto."

Howard has been cooling his heels since the Americans' run in Brazil ended three weeks ago. He's been vacationing in Florida with his family, and "eating stuff I normally don't get to eat."

He's also been recognised at home more than normal, he said -- something Barack Obama predicted during a congratulatory phone call to Howard following the Belgium game, when the president told the New Jersey product he was going to have to shave his beard "to avoid the mobs" stateside. (For the record, Howard says his facial hair remains intact.)

A video of one overzealous fan's attempted embrace of Howard went viral in the days after he returned from Brazil.

"He got a little bit too aggressive and I didn't like it," Howard said of that encounter. "If someone wants to give me a hug and they want to do it in a nice way, I have no problem with it."

As far as what happened on the field, the distance has provided Howard with more perspective as the disappointment of that extra-time defeat fades.

"As time moves on, although we certainly felt like we could've even made the quarterfinals, I'm very proud of the effort," he said. "Not only did we get out of the group, we did it on merit. We were never out of any game, we never looked out of our league and we were never outclassed. Of course there were certain games where we had to weather the storm, but that's what happens when you play against the best teams."

In particular, hindsight makes the Yanks' narrow defeat to eventual champions Germany in the group stage finale more impressive to Howard.

"It makes a 1-0 loss feel like a win, the way they were shredding teams apart," he said. "Hats off to them. Top to bottom, front to back, they were far and away the best team at the World Cup."