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Jan 24, 2008

Friedel still going strong

Given that Brad Friedel is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, and has been for a while, he must have known the question was coming. His quick reply suggested it.

"None at all,'' the Ohio native said with a chuckle when asked whether he had any thoughts of ending his international retirement in time for the 2010 World Cup. "I had unbelievable times, to say the least, and I loved every minute of international football. But I also don't regret for one second the day that I retired."

Friedel is 36, which isn't that old for a keeper, especially when you consider Seattle's Kasey Keller, part of the squad at last summer's Gold Cup and Copa America, is still going strong with the national team aged 38 and 35-year-old Marcus Hahnemann, another Seattle stopper, continues to be the undisputed No. 1 at Reading. (New Jersey's Tim Howard, having a stellar campaign at Everton, is a tot in comparison -- he's 28.)

Friedel made his 82nd and last appearance with the U.S. in a 1-0 win over Poland four years ago, capping a career that saw him take part in three World Cups. Few will forget his virtuoso performance in 2002, when he saved two penalties and was otherwise a human wall as the U.S. reached the quarterfinals.

He might have been persuaded by Bruce Arena to return for the 2006 showcase in Germany, but only if the team was in dire straits.

"I had a good relationship with Bruce, and he never called and said, `I need you to come back,''' Friedel said. "Once in a while, he'd say, `Are you thinking about it?' The only time I would have come back for the last World Cup is if Kasey, Tim and Marcus all got injured. But I didn't do any of the qualifying, it wasn't my team, and Marcus, Timmy and Kasey are all good goalkeepers.

"There just wasn't an ounce of me that wanted to come out of international retirement. Having said that, I want the team to win every time they play, and I try to watch them every time they play."

Friedel's focus, then, is squarely on Blackburn. Saturday's 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough marked his 137th straight league appearance -- the last time he missed a Premiership match was in May 2004 -- so even die-hard fans would be hard pressed to name his backup. (Jason Brown, in case you're wondering, is the current benchwarmer now that Peter Enckelman is on loan at Cardiff.)

His longevity was noted by Blackburn manager Mark Hughes this month.

"There are a lot of guys who shine brightly for a short period of time and get a lot of publicity, and then you don't hear about them for two or three seasons," Hughes said. "But Brad has consistently been at the top of his trade for seven years. He is right up there with anybody else I have worked with," the Welshman added, going on to name former Manchester United icon Peter Schmeichel and Neville Southall, the longtime Everton stalwart.

A big reason Friedel has been able to maintain his form and stay injury free, he says, is yoga. He was introduced to it five years ago by California resident Barry Venison, a former England and Liverpool defender who also made headlines for his outlandish hairstyle and dress sense.

Friedel practises yoga every day, about 20 minutes before training, for instance, then 30 to 45 minutes in the evening.

"It really is fantastic for relaxing and keeping your muscles intact," he said. "Maybe it's more mental, I don't know. But it seems from the time I started yoga, I just felt better and better."

That being said, it's little surprise that Friedel has no plans to quit anytime soon -- tongue in cheek, he said he'll carry on until he "falls over." His contract expires at the end of next season, though he's looking to "prolong that as long as" he can.

The tie against Middlesbrough extended Rovers' unbeaten streak to five in the league and kept them within striking distance -- five points -- of the much coveted fourth and final Champions League spot. Finishing fourth is a "possibility," even if Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Portsmouth and Aston Villa -- Blackburn's next opponent -- are also in contention as crunch time approaches.

"For a club like ours, a lot of it depends on injuries, suspensions and on certain games, getting the breaks," Friedel said.

Now for a roundup of how some of Friedel's compatriots fared recently in England:

Defender Carlos Bocanegra and midfielder Clint Dempsey each played the full 120 minutes as slumping Fulham was embarrassed in the F.A. Cup, losing on penalties to lower-division Bristol Rovers in a third-round replay Tuesday. (Neither figured in the shootout.)

Derby, last in the top division, managed to top Sheffield Wednesday on penalties, with first-half sub Eddie Lewis converting a spot kick for the Rams.

Hahnemann made a flurry of saves, but it wasn't enough to prevent Manchester United from beating Reading 2-0 in a pulsating league encounter Saturday. Midfield teammate Bobby Convey featured for 80 minutes as he made his 100 th appearance.

Howard and Everton were unable to get past high-flying Chelsea in the League Cup semifinals, losing the second leg 1-0 in Liverpool on Wednesday to exit 3-1 on aggregate. Jonathan Spector, a defender who often doubles as a midfielder for West Ham, came on as a late substitute in a 1-1 draw at Manchester City on Sunday.

Ravi Ubha is a London-based freelance journalist covering Americans abroad for ESPNsoccernet. He also covers tennis for ESPN.com.