Even before Clint Dempsey plopped to the ground Sunday the United States was already nearing The Tipping Point.
Charlie Davies is recovering from a shattered leg; Oguchi Onyewu is trying to rush back from a patellar tendon rapture (his knee is fucked up); Jermaine Jones might never recover from his broken leg; Jozy Altidore can’t score a goal in the English Premier League; Carlos Bocanegra is stuck on the Stade Rennes’ bench; DaMarcus Beasley started playing well for the first time in years and then tore his hamstring.
Now it’s looking likely Dempsey is going to get as much playing time at the World Cup as I am. After the World Cup draw U.S. fans (including me) were oozing with optimism, but with Robbie Rodgers probably making the team Algeria and Slovenia suddenly seem like much tougher foes. But are things really that bad? Let’s take a look…
The losing Dempsey isn’t that bad argument
There probably isn’t a more frustrating player for U.S. fans than the rapper from East Texas. When Dempsey is good for the U.S. he’s fantastic and when he’s bad he’s horrendously terrible. It’s worth remembering just how wretched he was early last summer. After being non-existent against Costa Rica and Honduras he continued his poor play against Italy and Brazil in the Confederations Cup. The Brazil match was especially hard to watch, this is what I wrote after the 3-0 loss:
AMC Clint Dempsey — Dropping Beasley from the national team is easy, dropping Dempsey would be a little harder. Dempsey is younger and playing well at the club level (probably better than any other American in Europe) but, lately, there’s something seriously wrong with Dempsey when he plays for the national team. It was embarrassing to watch him against Brazil. Every time he got the ball in the second half he would do a pointless step-over or juke move and I took it as him saying, “Look world, my teammates suck but I got some game.” On the last play of the match, the U.S. had a free kick from 40 yards out and Dempsey practically pushed Donovan aside so he can take a shot on goal (which he missed badly). I’m sure he’s tired after a long season, but it’s no excuse to act like an asshole. I think Bob Bradley’s biggest challenge right now is handling the Dempsey sitsuation. I don’t know if dropping him is the answer, but if he is going to continue to play (and act) like he did Thursday something has to be done. Grade: F
It looks crazy in retrospect, but for a moment last summer dropping Dempsey from the national team seemed like the responsible thing to do. Dempsey continued his poor play against Egypt until heading home the goal that clinched the Americans spot in the semifinals. If he didn’t score a “No More Dempsey” Internet campaign would have started. But he did score…and then he scored again against Spain…and then he scored again against Brazil…and everyone remembered, “Oh yeah, he scores goals, we don’t have too many of those guys.”
World Cup qualifying started up again in August and Dempsey was poor against Mexico and was below average for the rest of qualifying. Dempsey is one of the most skilled players on the team but it never looks like he’s giving 100 percent and when he doesn’t score a goal you leave the match thinking he didn’t do anything (because most of the time he didn’t). He should be nicknamed Dimitar Dempsey.
So without Dempsey the U.S. will miss those moments when he does something spectacular, but won’t miss those long periods when he brings absolutely nothing. That’s the “Losing Dempsey isn’t that bad” argument in a nutshell.
The losing Dempsey is devastating arguement
I would argue Dempsey is the best American field player to ever play in Europe. His competition is Claudio Reyena (his time at Rangers was quite exceptional) and Oguchi Onyewu (his success was in Belgium so it should be taken with a BIG grain of salt). Brian McBride, DaMarcus Beasley and Steve Cherundolo have had long, moderately successful careers in Europe but none come close to the two-year stretch Dempsey had at Fulham before his knee gave out. From scoring to toughness you could say Dempsey is Fulham’s best player and no one would laugh at you (he isn’t the best player, that’s between Schwarzer and Hangeland, but it’s not a ridiculous statement).
Dempsey also brings a unique personality to the U.S. squad. During the World Cup draw in December, Dempsey was lifting weights when everyone else was huddled in front of the television. He simply didn’t give a fuck. Working out was going to make him a better player; watching Charlieze Theron attempting to be funny wasn’t. You got to love that.
He’s also passionate. No player was more devastated after the Confederations Cup loss than Dempsey. He was in full tears after match; he really gave a fuck. You got to love that.
(Note to all magazines in the Untied States: No one has written the definitive Clint Dempsey feature story. What’s wrong with you people? This guy grew up in East Texas playing soccer with Mexican immigrants; was off the U.S.N.T. radar when he went to Furman to play collegiate soccer for three years; quickly took Major League Soccer by storm; is arguably the best American midfielder to ever play in Europe; he’s hyper-competitive; he comes off as being abnormally introverted; he raps. This could be award-winning stuff. Someone needs to write this story. Heck, someone needs to hire me to write this story!)
So to recap, the U.S. is losing the best American midfielder currently playing in Europe and one of the most passionate and competitive players on the team (plus, I didn’t even mention he plays multiple positions). It’s hard to spin that as being anything less than a big loss. But there’s more…
The biggest question Bob Bradley faces right now is where Landon Donovan should play. To me it’s a no brainer; Donovan should play forward next to Jozy Altidore. Bradley isn’t stupid and I think before Dempsey’s injury he argeed and would have used the following formation:
But without Dempsey I think Bradley will be very tempted to keep Donovan in the midfield. Donovan is a solid midfielder and was fantastic there during the Confederations Cup. The problem with Donovan playing outside midfield is the forward position will probably be filled by…awwww, I can’t even type it…Conor Casey:
Maybe Bradley will switch to a 4-5-1 — if Jermaine Jones ever got healthy — and I would love to watch opposing teams trying to penetrate a Jones/Edu/Bradley central midfield. The problem is Altidore would be alone up front and ask Hull fans how well that works. Bradley could also swap Dempsey with Beasley (which I would do), but it’s hard having any confidence in someone who’s played well for two weeks in the last two years. So with Dempsey hurt it gives Bradley an excuse to start Casey. A Casey for Dempsey swap is the single worse outcome from this injury.
Before Dempsey got hurt, I still thought the U.S. had the second best chance of advancing to the Round of 16, even if Davies, Onyewu and Jones didn’t play. But if you add Dempsey to the list I think Slovenia is the second best team in Group C. Dempsey’s busted knee dropped the U.S. back into a familiar position — underdogs.