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Howard among top goalkeepers in Premier League

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If Tim Howard maintains the standard he’s been setting in England, goalkeeping will be the least of the U.S. team’s worries during the World Cup.

Howard has 12 shutouts in 32 Premier League games for Everton this season following the Toffees’ 3-0 victory over Arsenal last weekend, tied for third with Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris and trailing only Chelsea’s Petr Cech (15) and the Gunners’ Wojciech Szczesny (13).

Thanks to sound defending and strong ball possession by Everton, Howard wasn’t particularly busy against the Gunners, but rose impressively to the challenges he faced.

It started in the first half with Lukas Podolski’s powerful, knuckling volley from the top of the 18-yard box, which Howard pushed over the crossbar with a well-timed leap and outstretched arm. In the second half, Howard pounced off of his line to smother Olivier Giroud’s attempt to turn in a lose ball from 6 yards out.

Howard also got just enough of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 25-yard drive to send the ball deflecting off the crossbar.

Howard, who moved from mostly a backup role at Manchester United to a starting job at Everton for the 2006-07 season, delivered high complements to his entire side in his post-match comments.

“That was certainly one of our signature performances since I’ve been here at Everton,” Howard said. “The way we controlled the game, scored the goals and kept it clean at the back – I thought it was a brilliant performance.”

The victory lifted fifth-place Everton within a point of Arsenal for the Premier League’s fourth and final berth in next season’s Champions League. Howard says he and his teammates are increasingly confident they’ll climb into Europe’s top club competition.

“We have to believe that as we run out of games,” Howard said.

The No. 2 American goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, has produced decent showings in the Premier League with Birmingham-based club Aston Villa. But with his team struggling in front of him, Guzan has allowed his share of goals.

Last weekend, then-last-place Fulham got two past Guzan in a 2-1 victory at Villa Park.

ELSEWHERE IN ENGLAND: Jozy Altidore, with just two goals in 35 matches for Sunderland this season did not dress for Monday’s 5-1 loss at Tottenham but instead started for Sunderland’s under-21 team in a 3-0 win at the Stadium of Light. Altidore’s ninth-minute shot following a high ball just past a post.

GOALS ABROAD: American forward Aron Johannsson is keeping up his prolific scoring pace with Dutch Eredivisie club AZ Alkmaar. Johannsson scored his 26th goal in all competitions on Sunday and added an assist in AZ’s 2-2 tie at Roda JC.

Meanwhile, U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya scored his fifth goal for Nantes on a header in a Ligue 1 match against Monaco. Bedoya provided Les Canaris’ only goal in a 3-1 loss.

HOME FRONT: Clint Dempsey is putting his ineffectual loan stint with Fulham behind him and producing goals en masse with Seattle early in the Major League Soccer season.

Dempsey had a hat trick on Saturday, including two late goals – one on a penalty kick – as the Sounders rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 4-4 tie at rival Portland. Dempsey has four goals, tied for the league lead despite a two-game suspension.

Midfielder Michael Bradley, whose sturdy and often clever midfield play has helped Toronto FC to a 3-1 start, also scored his first goal of the MLS season last weekend. He beat Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark from a sharp angle in a 2-0 victory over the Crew.

Landon Donovan assisted on two goals in the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 3-0 win over Chivas USA. The 32-year-old attacker is expected to be among 30 players selected by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for his preliminary roster, which must be submitted to FIFA by May 13, the day before the Americans open their training camp. (Final 23-man rosters are due by June 2.)

Donovan was part of the U.S. team for last week’s 2-2 draw against Mexico but did not start, even though nearly all non-MLS players missed the match because of club commitments.

Klinsmann said Donovan didn’t start because he’d been hampered by left knee soreness. Still, Klinsmann subbed Donovan into the game for the final 30 minutes.

“He didn’t train well,” Klinsmann said after the match. “He understood it. He was ready and came off the bench, no problem.”