United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) captain Clint Dempsey was pulled out of the line-up for last night’s friendly match with a groin injury. During warm-ups prior to the start against Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the leader of the USA squad pulled up with some tightness. As a precaution against something more devastating, Coach Jurgen Klinsmann pulled Dempsey to give the injury time to heal.
The lack of Dempsey on the pitch renewed the questionable decision by Klinsmann to exclude veteran striker Landon Donovan from the team. With the captain out of the lineup, Chris Wondolowski stepped in. The San Jose Earthquakes striker had the best chance to score early in the game off of a header, but the Azerbaijan goalkeeper denied the attempt. It took two players off of the bench after 75 minutes of game play to finally send the ball into the back of the net.
The game was expected to be a cakewalk for the USA. Azerbaijan is ranked 85th in the world by FIFA and the team’s head coach is friends with Klinsmann. Fans went into the stadium expecting a blow-out or at least a dominating performance by the USMNT and were met with a lackluster performance. It is possible that the last minute scratch of Dempsey took the USA off their game, however, that is something that just cannot happen when the squad enters group play against Germany, Portugal and Ghana. A game played against any of the USA’s group opponents like the match last night would end the USMNT World Cup hopes quickly.
Clint Dempsey felt that he could have played in the game last night. The decision to pull him was more of a better safe than sorry moment than anything else. While the team captain was on the field and felt a little tightness. Since the game was just a friendly with no real importance, giving Dempsey time to rest the tight groin and hope that it does not progress into a more serious injury that could keep the forward out of future games holding more importance. With the shake up to the line up obviously affecting the rest of the team. Not having Donovan or an exciting player like Eddie Johnson on the bench to assist both Dempsey and Wondolowski was the obvious cause of a shadow that started creeping over the national team.
With Dempsey out of the starting line-up, Jozy Altidore and Wondolowski teamed up on the front line and never seemed to sync with each other. Preparing for the biggest tournament in the soccer world, Klinsmann knows this must change for the United States. Both verbal and non-verbal communication between his players is a necessity and with the rising concerns over the actual state of Dempsey’s health, the chances at the World Cup may already have started unraveling for the USA. When Dempsey returned to the Seattle Sounders last season a hamstring strain slowed the forward down in September and the following November a calf injury kept the star from a pair of USMNT friendlies against Austria and Scotland.
While the final roster does not need to be submitted to FIFA until June 2, Klinsmann may be forced to adjust the roster drastically. If Clint Dempsey the groin injury that kept him off the pitch last night becomes worse and the USMNT continues last nights lackluster play, the head coach will need to make some difficult decisions. Opening the door for Donovan to slide onto the roster is unlikely. However, Klinsmann will need to do something with the team if the coach does not want to be out of a job after the World Cup is over.
Commentary by Carl Auer