United States captain Clint Dempsey has ordered his teammates not to be satisfied with merely qualifying for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
Dempsey led the U.S. throughout a hugely successful campaign that culminated Tuesday night in a 2-0 victory over Mexico and a spot among the world's best 32 teams with two games to spare. However, the Seattle Sounders forward still nurses bitter memories of a dismal 2006 World Cup and even a 2010 tournament in which the Americans faltered in the round of 16 after dramatically topping their group.
"The job is not done now," Dempsey said. "It is one thing to qualify for the World Cup, but we will be sitting here talking about something different if we don't get out of our group. Everybody will be devastated.
"It would be nice to go on a nice run in a World Cup. That is something I haven't got to experience. That is what we are looking at now, to aim for that and not settle for what we've had in the past."
The U.S.'s most successful World Cup in recent times came under coach Bruce Arena in 2002 with a run to the quarterfinals thanks to victories over Portugal and Mexico. Getting out of the group is always the primary target for the Americans, but a finish similar to the round of 16 defeat to Ghana three years ago in South Africa would be seen as a disappointment this time around.
Qualification for Brazil 2014 could hardly have gone better. Tuesday's result in Columbus, Ohio, capped off a series of strong performances in CONCACAF's final six-team pool, with the only defeats coming on tricky visits to Honduras and Costa Rica.
"To be a captain and help the team qualify for a World Cup is something special that I will always remember," Dempsey said. "This region provides more competition than people think it is. CONCACAF is getting better. The teams have more players who are playing on bigger teams in Europe.
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"We showed character over the qualifying process and we have to use that to help us grow."
Eyebrows were raised, both in the United States and in Europe, when Dempsey decided to bring his Premier League adventure to a close in August by leaving Tottenham Hotspur and linking up with the Sounders on a four-year contract reported to be worth $5 million per season. While Major League Soccer provides a lower level of competition than the Premier League, the timing of the respective seasons could help Dempsey get ready for Brazil.
Depending on how far the Sounders progress in the MLS postseason, Dempsey will likely head into winter break some time in November before reporting back for preseason duty a couple of months later. Rather than deal with the difficulties Europe-based players normally face after grueling domestic campaigns, Dempsey will go to Brazil three months into the 2014 MLS season, which could prove to be ideal timing for a player who is now 30 years old.
Moreover, Dempsey knows that another World Cup in 2018 may be beyond him, meaning next year's tournament could be the final time he gets to display his talents on a truly global stage.
"I got to experience Germany [in 2006] when we didn't advance from the group," Dempsey said. "Then at the same time I was part of [the 2009] Confederations Cup where we got to the final and then in 2010 where we won the group and then lost the next game. It is a learning process and you have to grow and build from the things you have been through.
"This team has been through some challenges and all of our experiences have helped us get ready. That gives you a platform to move forward."
Forward momentum has not been lacking for the past year, as Klinsmann and his players have built confidence and cohesion. Keeping those positive vibes bubbling until next summer is the next task and one which, if accomplished, could hold the key to the World Cup hopes of the U.S.
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