Clint Dempsey Is the X-Factor for USA in Next Leg of World Cup Qualifying

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02:  Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States Men's National Team brings the ball down the field in the first half against Stefan Reinartz #3 of the the Germany Men's National Team in an international friendly at RFK Stadium on June 2, 2013  in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

There was plenty to like (and plenty to dislike) about the United States' 4-3 friendly win over Germany on Sunday. Jozy Altidore broke an international goal drought of nearly two years, Michael Bradley made his triumphant—and impressive—return after missing the Belgium game and Jermaine Jones finally flashed his Schalke form in the red, white and blue.

But more so than anything else to be grateful for, including the gift goal Marc-Andre ter Stegen gave us in the first half, there was the dominant finishing of one Clint Dempsey.

Now sporting the captain band that once belonged to Carlos Bocanegra, Clint has become even more of a leader than he already was—both vocally as well as through his play.

He's now scored in five of his last six games with the U.S. Men's National Team, including every single one his team hasn't been shut out in. (His sole misfire came in the Americans' impressive 0-0 draw against Mexico at Azteca Stadium.) He's managed seven goals in those five games he's scored in, scoring twice in a World Cup Qualifier against Guatemala and twice again on Sunday against Germany.

But it wasn't just that Deuce scored a deuce against the Germans that proved so impressive, it was how. There was nothing fluky about either strike, neither one exhibiting the typical ugliness of an American goal. These were two picture-perfect goals, the result of picture-perfect plays, against a squad that, even without its A-team, is still one of the best in the world.

The first came after a cross from Jozy Altidore (more on him in a bit), who bounced a ball through the box and onto Dempsey's foot. Often in that position, a player will try to do too much—he'll aim for the top corner and sail one into the seats or try to burn a hole in the net but shoot right at the keeper. But Dempsey kept his wits about him, chose accuracy over power—though there was certainly some pace included—and came up with a clinical finish.

The second goal, a mere four minutes later, was the icing on the cake (or, depending on who you were rooting for, the salt in the wound). With no ball pressure near the top of the box, Dempsey shook off a lazy, flying tackle from Lukas Podolski, came back to his left foot and had a go from deep. The ball curled off his weaker boot, dipped over the hands of the keeper and fluttered beautifully into the back of the net.

Here's my point: Neither of those goals were exactly foreign to U.S. soccer fans. We've seen beautiful finishes like that before, just usually not for out national team. We're used to seeing shots this perfect in YouTube clips of Messi or replays on a FIFA game. But when America scores, it's usually the result of brute force, not skill and finesse.

Which is what made this whole game so jarring, in a good way, to watch. Even Jozy Altidore—the king of the brute-force goal—scored with a tactical finish in the first. Clearly Dempsey has been rubbing off on him, because in and around the net against Germany, this looked like a whole new American team.

Going forward, Dempey's output, along with his influence on his teammates, is the sole X-factor for our World Cup chances. The defense is in a state of disrepair, and Tim Howard doesn't seem as invincible as he did four years ago.

This team is going to let up more goals than American soccer fans are used to, whether they like it or not.

If we're going to be successful in spite of that, we're gonna need to score more goals than American soccer fans are used to as well. We have to attack in a neat, disciplined, clinical way that's always been foreign to our side. Clint Dempsey is the key to that attack, and today, for 90 fleeting minutes, everything seemed to click.

Now let's see them do it when it counts.