Chicago (AFP) – US coach Bruce Arena called upon forward Clint Dempsey and goalkeeper Tim Howard, both veterans coming off serious injuries, for World Cup qualifying duty Wednesday ahead of crucial matches.
Seattle Sounders’ Dempsey had been sidelined due to an irregular heartbeat and rejoins the US squad for the first time since Copa America Centenario last June.
The 34-year-old former Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur standout was benched for the last four months of the 2016 Major League Soccer campaign.
Arena had said he did not expect Dempsey in the US lineup for the March 24 home match against Honduras or the game four days later at Panama.
But that has changed as Dempsey, whose 52 US goals rank second on the all-time list, was approved for full training and play for Seattle last month.
“He keeps getting better and we really feel that on any roster the US has, if you can include a healthy Clint Dempsey, it’s a big plus,” Arena said.
“Clint has a history that is almost second to none. We know there are some good days still ahead for Clint. He has made great progress in pre-season and his first two games with Seattle.
“We think he’s a player that can still help us in these games — perhaps at a reduced role — but a player that still has a tremendous history of scoring goals and creating opportunities. To have that kind of player available I think is invaluable.”
Howard, a 38-year-old previously with Manchester United and Everton, returns for the first time since suffering a hip fracture in a 2-1 World Cup home qualifying loss to Mexico.
Howard made seven saves in Colorado’s 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls last Saturday.
But he will have to fight Brad Guzan of Middlesbrough and Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando for a starting spot.
“How they look in training will determine who starts in the goal,” Arena said.
Arena, 65, was named to his second stint coaching the US squad last November after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired following losses to Mexico and at Costa Rica to open North American (CONCACAF) regional qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Those defeats made the next two matches vital in the Americans’ hopes to advance.
“We go nowhere unless we come out of these games with points and by that I mean three points or more,” Arena said, counting on no worse than a draw in Panama and a home win at San Jose, California next week in his first qualifier since returning as coach.
“They are going to be as calm and relaxed as they can be in a game that’s this crucial — we have to win this game,” Arena said. “We put together a roster that we think has balance and gives us an option in playing a number of different ways.
“The primary rationale is to help us be successful in these two games, but we’re also looking down the road and bringing in some young players that we think have an opportunity to be an important part of the national team program as well.
“Our approach to these games is simple: We want to win.”
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