On a night when the United States simply needed to take care of business, it was no surprise that Clint Dempsey got the job done.
Tuesday night’s Gold Cup opener against Canada never had much of a potential upside for the USA, providing nothing more than a possible pitfall and source of embarrassment. As it was, Bob Bradley’s men got their campaign off to a solid and confident start, and can now look ahead to bigger and better things later in the tournament.
Dempsey scored the second goal to add to Jozy Altidore’s first-half opener to put the contest at Ford Field to bed, and was a figure of strength at a time when the Americans needed to regroup following a 4-0 hammering by Spain on Saturday.
After yet another successful year in the tough and torrid English Premier League, Dempsey could have been forgiven for taking his foot off the gas in a regional tournament where the team is expected to dominate weaker opponents.
He has barely had a rest for two years, having spent the bulk of last summer on World Cup duty and then going through Fulham’s campaign as a key player under Mark Hughes and winning the club’s player of the year award.
“Clint has worked very hard over the last couple of seasons,” USA coach Bradley said. “He continues to be one of our most important players, and when you look at players who are part of our nucleus he is definitely in that group. You sometimes take a look at the workload our players are under and want be careful with that, but he is in fantastic condition.”
Dempsey remains as dedicated to the USA cause as anyone, though he does not command the same level of attention as Landon Donovan and even Tim Howard. He is not especially outspoken and does not court much in the way of controversy. Despite interest from other clubs he seems happy to be loyal to his English Premier League club Fulham, which gave him his big chance in Europe five years ago.
However, despite operating somewhat under the radar there is much to suggest that Dempsey may not only be America’s best player, but maybe it’s only true world class performer.
During the World Cup it was Donovan who got the plaudits for his three goals but Dempsey was consistently strong in each of the team’s four games and if not for an unjustly disallowed goal against Algeria, he might have been the hero.
Indeed, there are plenty of observers in England who believe that if Dempsey was English, he would be part of that country’s national team plans, a compliment that would be afforded to no other USA player except possibly Howard.
“Clint does things on the field that not everyone sees but he was hugely important for us,” said former Fulham boss Hughes, who left the club last week when his contract expired. “He never stops running and thinking and has a lot of imagination.”
Saturday’s Spain defeat, albeit against the best team in the world, was a significant blow to the morale of a USA team which had been feeling pretty good about itself after a series of solid performances.
When a pick-me-up was needed it was Dempsey who spoke out earlier in the week, exhorting great spirit and effort from the players. And when game time arrived, he backed it up.
Dempsey will have bigger and more important days than this one for club and country but on this night when he showed his class, commitment and value, the USA could be grateful for his presence once more.