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