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Clint Dempsey

Jurgen Klinsmann cannot build USMNT around Clint Dempsey; By Steve Davis


It doesn’t seem so long ago that Clint Dempsey’s naughty little shirt pull propelled him so usefully past a Ghanaian defender that 2006 day in Nuremburg.

It was quintessential Dempsey – or what we would soon know as “quintessential Dempsey.” Seeing DaMarcus Beasley had created a midfield turnover, using those instincts to recognize the moment, Dempsey’s savvy shirt pull provided him the one-step head start he needed, a small edge that made a huge difference as he met Beasley’s curling ball. That marked the “want to” element and the street-smarts that have always been part of Dempsey’s game. From there, the skill element took hold as Dempsey finished with authority, without prejudice.

Bruce Arena’s team could not get it done that day, but Dempsey’s crashing first-half strike spoke of things to come. He was just 23, an offer from Fulham soon forthcoming. At Craven Cottage in West London, he would become one of American soccer’s most treasured Yanks Abroad.

But you know all that. What we tend to forget is that Dempsey has been doing his thing for more than a decade, that he began building this brilliant career a dozen seasons back; Dempsey scored the first of his 44 MLS goals back in 2004.

Because of the way he carries himself – always playing like that scrappy East Texas kid, still a man who enjoys hanging with his family or doing a little fishing, Huck Finn-like – we still think of Dempsey as a younger player, still driving with determination through his best career years.

But the reality is slowly setting in: Dempsey isn’t that young man anymore. He’s more “Daddy Deuce” than “Kid Deuce” these days. He recently turned 32.

That doesn’t mean Dempsey cannot be effective. He most certainly can be, at league level and at international level. Which is why the Sounders’ highly paid star remains a league MVP candidate, part of one of the best strike duos (along with Obafemi Martins) that MLS has ever seen. And that is why he remains a central figure of U.S. rosters.

Well, he does when healthy. And that’s the point here.

Dempsey will miss another U.S. match (Wednesday vs. Mexico) due to recurring hamstring issues. It is now happening with concerning frequency. Not that this should really surprise us – and yet it does. And it makes us squirm a bit for the tough reality, the looming knowledge that Dempsey, who scored World Cup goals in 2006, 2010 and 2014 – Think about that as a career accomplishment, scoring in three World Cups! – may not be around to score in another one.

Dempsey will be 35 by the time Russia 2018 rolls around. We all knew that, even if there has been a certain amount of whistling past the grave yard where Dempsey is concerned. Supporters can’t be blamed for holding out hope.

Dempsey flew to Europe to be part of the previous national team camp.  A hamstring issue derailed those plans, necessitating a return stateside. He played a few days later for Seattle, recording a key assist in a 1-0 win April 4 over Houston.

But another hamstring issue took Dempsey out of action for Sunday’s MLS biggie, a match at the league champs; The Galaxy prevailed, 1-0.

So Dempsey will miss this week’s likely-t0-be-unfriendly match against Mexico in San Antonio. Perhaps most importantly, this was not the same hamstring that kept him out of the previous U.S. matches.

Dempsey will certainly remain part of the national team scene, especially with the emphasis on winning this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. But Klinsmann cannot rely on Dempsey much longer. Further, to think Dempsey will remain an effective force as a 35-year-old (read: at World Cup 2018) seems fairly optimistic.

It seems to be increasingly optimistic when we consider the recent injury setbacks, and when we consider that more than half of Dempsey’s MLS matches happen on artificial turf.

The upshot here is that Klinsmann must make choices assuming that Dempsey can be part of the attacking plan, but perhaps not a central figure of it. That’s an important distinction, because a lineup and an attack built around Dempsey might look quite different than one without him.

Dempsey tends to drift and freelance when stationed behind the striker, his spot under Klinsmann. His game has always been difficult to classify; Dempsey is certainly not a “playmaker” in the classic sense.

Dempsey has made it work for him, splendidly so, in fact. But his unique MO sometimes requires managers to cater the lineups and tactics to him.

At some point, all of this brings us to players like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, who will likely be central figures in 2018. At some point, another figure will be needed to play alongside Altidore, in front of Bradley (who, is not a classic No. 10, no matter how much Klinsmann wants to make him one.)

Dempsey has good things ahead. No doubt about it. But if success or failure at the World Cup is the primary metric by which we judge the U.S. national team progress (and it is) then choices have to be made accordingly. That gives Klinsmann more to think about as he considers the best use of an increasingly injury-prone attacker who will be 35 at the next World Cup.

Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk


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  1. jay jay

    April 14, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    always enjoy Mr. Davis’ column. thanks!

  2. Desty Brown

    April 14, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    That is why I can’t figure out why many people are upset with Klinsmann’s experimentation. The only way to find the next Dempsey is through experimenting (calling in new players and playing them in different positions). Also, the only way to improve the national team tactics is by experimenting in friendly matches.

  3. Lawrence Dockery

    April 14, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    It’s gonna be a sad day when Dempsey hangs ’em up. I think that he’s been the face of American soccer since his goal against Italy in 2012.

  4. StellaWasAlwaysDown

    April 14, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    People were holding out hope that Dempsey would lead the USMNT charge in ’18? If he is our go-to guy, then we are in a lot of trouble. We need to blood some more youngsters as the WC will be here before you know it. We are almost a year into the next cycle.

  5. Jasinho

    April 13, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    JK could have Jermaine Jones up front as part of his many experiments, but that wouldn’t do the midfield any favors.

    I’m waiting to see how the US would perform in the Gold Cup before I could assess their chances in the Copa America and the ’18 WCQs.

  6. Kei

    April 13, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    Perhaps more worrisome from the USMNT perspective: Where is the next Clint Dempsey coming from? Things can obviously change a lot in three years, but it doesn’t look like there’s a new talisman waiting in the wings in either the US or in Germany.

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