Three games, which is what MLS banned Dempsey for on Friday is a somewhat lenient punishment. The USSF hands down its punishment next week, which could impact Dempsey’s future participation in the Open Cup and potentially in the Gold Cup. There should be further national team punishment.
It cuts two ways with Dempsey. The Texan is a terrific, almost psychotic competitor, and that competitiveness has manifested itself in plenty of great moments.
One of those unforgettable and incredible moments was Dempsey crying on the medal stand after the 2009 Confederations Cup final.
It didn’t matter that Sepp Blatter had just presented him with the Bronze Ball for third best player in the tournament, didn’t matter that he’d made the all tournament team, didn’t matter that he had a silver medal around his neck in a tournament that the US was supposed to be out of after two group stage games – all that mattered was that his team had lost, 3-2 to Brazil. He was in tears. Inconsolable.
Dempsey scores a lot of goals because he’s an incredibly skillful player, absolutely, but he also scores a lot of goals because of his drive and will. A 60-yard run in searing Portland heat last year when Dempsey blew by Michael Harrington to score a tap-in is a perfect example.
The problem with Dempsey is that competitiveness is tinged with something darker, and that darkness has provided plenty of ugly, classless moments. And this is the man who is supposed to be the leader of US Soccer? A role model?
Dempsey was never suited to the captaincy, like many great players before him and many great players to come.
Jurgen Klinsmann, who often accomplishes his goal of pushing players out of their comfort zones by playing them out of position, or putting a German fourth division player in the World Cup squad, made Dempsey captain in the hope that a great player would become a great leader.
It didn’t happen.
Dempsey’s behavior has been unbecoming of a US captain, and even if that moral argument understandably doesn’t move you, Dempsey’s time has past.
If you watched any part of the Americans’ stirring comeback friendly wins over the Netherlands and Germany two weeks ago, you know that the USMNT is Michael Bradley’s team now.
Dempsey will be 35 by the time the 2018 World Cup rolls around, and while he may still be contributing then, he certainly won’t be the face of the team like he arguably was in Brazil.