The USA finds itself in a difficult World Cup group in Brazil, and captain Clint Dempsey will find he carries an added burden: the hopes of a nation. There is the old cliché that goes “there are no easy games at this level” but the Americans really could not have drawn many tougher teams. No player will know that more than Dempsey, who along with Landon Donovan, will feel the weight of expectation more than the others.
USA boss Jürgen Klinsmann will re-acquaint himself with his native Germany, winners of the World Cup on three occasions, while Cristiano Ronaldo will provide the main threat for Portugal. African nation Ghana, along with the USA, have been installed as long shots to reach the last 16.
Nevertheless, the Americans will be buoyed by the fact Klinsmann is an experienced manager at both club and national level and Dempsey will need no introduction. In him, they have an on-field leader, too. Although Alexi Lalas is a more recognizable figure owing to his shock of ginger hair and fans of English football will remember the silky skills of Roy Wegerle, few USA internationals have made a lasting impression on the beautiful game like Dempsey. His desire to move to a club just to play rather than for financial gain sets him apart from many.
Having had a successful first period at Premier League Fulham before a more modest time at Tottenham Hotspur, Dempsey will bring that experience and attributes with him. His age and experience of big matches will be something the young Americans will be looking up to.
Despite a rather acrimonious exit from Fulham after he spent 2007-2012 there, Dempsey was welcomed back to Craven Cottage on a two-month loan deal just after Christmas last year. His aim was simple – to play against fiercer competition and maintain match fitness in the MLS close season.
Although World Cup-winner Klinsmann offers a wealth of experience from the touchline, Dempsey’s contribution on the pitch cannot be overstated. Leaving the MLS after a grueling season to join a winter relegation scrap at Fulham would not be every player’s first choice when working out how to stay fit.
Now in his early 30s, Dempsey knows it becomes more difficult to get match fit after a long break. Dempsey is now back at Seattle Sounders, where he will have the added advantage of match practice when he lines up against opponents in the new campaign, which kicked-off this weekend. Then once Klinsmann names his squad for the World Cup in Brazil, captain Dempsey will know he carries the hopes of the USA.
Apart from his leadership qualities and experience, Dempsey is also versatile, having played as a striker at club level and usually as a midfielder for his country. Dempsey is able to mix it and lead by example. He knows this will could be his last chance to play in a World Cup finals and will have the extra burden of knowing he carries the hopes of the USA on his broad shoulders.
World Cup Preview is a daily series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd