Most soccer fans aren’t naïve to the cruel inevitability of the professional game. Yesterday’s wow-wow hero is today’s trade bait, or a conversation starter as a bunch of us Monday morning center backs discuss who should, shouldn’t, might or might not wave goodbye to the international game.
So we knew the day would come when Clint Dempsey would no longer be around to rescue US pride with Deuce Face or, more importantly, to rescue US World Cup endeavors with one of his signature goals. His trademark strikes were one part skill, one part scrappy kid from the East Texas scrub.
The inexorable sands of time work that way, of course. But this one seems to be catching us off guard; the conversations regarding “Deuce” shifted brutally fast, didn’t they?
Just last summer fans lamented a US Open Cup-related suspension that would keep Dempsey from early Gold Cup matches; we all counted to see when U.S. Soccer’s second all-time leading scorer – behind Landon Donovan but ahead of third-place Eric Wynalda – could re-join the US effort.
Now the questions regarding Dempsey are being asked in more sullen tones: Does he have a role with the United States national team? Should he have a role? Will he have a role? Would he accept a different role? And on it goes.
It all became more topical (that’s another way of saying it was put right in our faces) earlier this week when US coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced his roster for the pair of upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Dempsey wasn’t on it, and it really was an “Oh … ” moment for US supporters and media alike.
It is certainly true that the United States should not need Dempsey as the long road to Russia – 16 matches over two years, assuming things go as planned – gets going Friday in St. Louis. If the US cannot handle St. Vincent and the Grenadines inside a packed Busch Stadium, then Dempsey’s future will drop way, way down the list of talking points.
Still, the significance of the moment should not be lost. This guy didn’t just play in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups; he scored in all three of them. So beginning the 2018 cycle without him marks a significant moment.
All this probably shouldn’t have been so surprising; the warning signs have been flashing, haven’t they? I wrote in April that the United States cannot continue to build around Dempsey.