May 31, 2014, 9:48 AM EDT
Given the draw the U.S. has at this summer’s World Cup (with both Germany and Portugal in its group), every player’s performance may be make-or-break. If the U.S. is going to return to the knockout round, it’s going to need an optimal effort from stars and role players alike. Weaknesses will be exploited, while a team without strengths will fail to take points needed to reach the knockout round. There will be no margin for error.
Clint Dempsey needs to be one of his team’s strengths. With an international club résumé that’s the envy of almost all of his out-field teammates, the U.S. captain is one of the few players who, if he goes on a hot streak, can give his team a shot at the second round. Particularly with Jozy Altidore struggling and the likes of Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya lacking World Cup experience, Dempsey can leverage lessons from Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 to help the U.S. at Brazil 2014.
Surprisingly, he has been around that long. The player whose athleticism allowed him to thrive with New England from 2004 to 2006 has become a player who can be a difference-maker on a bigger sage. Whether he will remains to be seen, but with Jurgen Klinsmann’s team built around the idea Dempsey can be a focal point out of the back, the fortunes of “Deuce” may dictate whether the U.S. can survive the World Cup’s first cut.
Full name: Clinton Drew Dempsey
Hometown: Nacogdoches, Texas
Position: Forward, Attacking midfielder
Caps/goals: 103 caps, 36 goals
Club: Seattle Sounders
Best moment in a U.S. shirt: Dempsey’s goal at the 2009 Confederations Cup is so memorable, it’s often difficult to recall Jozy Altidore, with his score in the 29th minute, putting the U.S. ahead of Spain long before the then-Fulham man’s opportunism’s put the match away. After Benny Feilhaber played a ball across the six-yard box late in a 1-0 game between the U.S. and the top-rated Spaniards, Dempsey pounced on a ball trapped by Sergio Ramos, beating Iker Casillas to help snap the European champions’ 35-match unbeaten run.
Starter or squad player at World Cup? Dempsey is more than a starter. He’s the captain, he’s the focal point, and although it’s unclear whether he’s the team’s best player, he may be its most important. Increasingly, and ever since he was awarded Carlos Bocanegra’s captaincy, this is Dempsey’s team. It’s difficult to imagine the team going far without him performing well.
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