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SAN FRANCISCO – United States captain Clint Dempsey insisted the groin complaint that ruled him out of Tuesday’s night 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan would not disrupt his preparations for the World Cup.
Dempsey was withdrawn from the starting lineup when he started to experience tightness during warmups at Candlestick Park, and watched from the bench as the U.S. struggled early before securing the win with late goals from Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson.
"I am just a little tight, just being precautionary, just being smart," Dempsey told Yahoo Sports. "[My groin] felt tight and I didn’t think it made sense to push it in this game. I’ll be ready for the next game. It’s all good."
Azerbaijan is ranked a lowly 85th in the FIFA world rankings, and though it has a solid and sturdy defense, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann would have hoped for much more from the first of his team’s three send-off games before heading to Brazil.
The move to exclude Dempsey from the lineup did, however, give some insight into the thinking of Klinsmann surrounding his lead forwards, with San Jose Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski coming in as Dempsey's replacement instead of Aron Johannsson.
That idea may have been cast into some doubt later on though, as both of the goals came from substitutes introduced during the second half. Mix Diskerud grabbed the first after 75 minutes, pouncing after Michael Bradley had a goal-bound effort blocked. Johansson added a second after 81 minutes, turning in a Brad Davis corner with a near post header.
Those goals went some way toward lifting what had become a sense of gloom descending over Candlestick Park, where a crowd of 24,688 turned out to see the game on a windy night.
Earlier, Wondolowski had one of the U.S. team's best chances after less than two minutes, connecting with a header from a Graham Zusi cross but seeing his effort saved by Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev.
Maybe it was a bit of ring rust or maybe Dempsey’s absence caused a disruption, but the way the U.S. failed to convert on its glut of possession will surely weigh on Klinsmann.
Jozy Altidore and Wondolowski struggled to get on the same page and three subs at halftime indicated Klinsmann may not be fully decided yet on whether Geoff Cameron or Omar Gonzalez should take the second central defensive spot, whether Alejandro Bedoya should operate on the left or right of midfield, or if DaMarcus Beasley or Timmy Chandler is the best option at left back.
Either way, there is one major question Klinsmann and U.S. fans will be keeping an eye on: the health of Dempsey.
Dempsey suffered a pair of minor injuries since returning to Major League Soccer with the Sounders last season, a hamstring strain back in September and a calf injury that kept him out of November friendlies against Scotland and Austria. He is much needed, as evidenced on Tuesday.
Next up the team plays Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., on June 1, before facing Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla., six days later.
The World Cup looms closer and despite this victory, the U.S. is still some way short of where it needs to be.