Back in March, heading into the United States men’s national team’s World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann named Clint Dempsey the new captain of the USMNT.
Carlos Bocanegra, who had been named the captain following the 2006 World Cup and captained the squad at the 2010 World Cup, was not on the roster for the March qualifiers.
Tim Howard, who had captained the U.S. the month before against Honduras, missed the roster due to a back injury suffered with his club, Everton.
Landon Donovan, who had captained the side on a number of occasions, was still on his self-imposed sabbatical at the time and Steve Cherundolo, who captained the team at the 2009 Gold Cup, missed the roster due to a knee injury.
The only two real choices left on the roster in March to captain the squad were Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey.
Many had expected that Klinsmann would go with the younger Bradley, but in the end, Klinsmann chose Dempsey.
Bradley would have certainly been a fine choice, as he is obviously the heart and soul of the U.S.’s midfield, but he is just starting to reach the peak of his career.
For Dempsey, on the other hand, this World Cup cycle will be his last for the USMNT. At 30 years old, Dempsey will not be around for the 2018 campaign. And knowing that this is his last turn on the international stage, Dempsey has been the perfect choice to lead the squad.
As athletes near the end of their career, their focus naturally turns more towards team accomplishments and the desire to win championships increases. This was obviously something on Dempsey’s mind last summer as he sought a move away from Fulham to a Champions League side. It has also been evident in the way Dempsey has played over the past year for the USMNT. He knows this is his last chance to help the U.S. make a meaningful impact on the world stage.
In the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and even in the early games of the hexagonal, it has been obvious that Dempsey was ready to put the team on his shoulders. With Jozy Altidore still misfiring at the international level, Dempsey scored five goals for the U.S. in the semifinal round and the only two goals for the U.S. in the first two games of the hexagonal.
For a captain to be truly effective, they must have the respect and confidence of the other players on the field. Over the last five years, Dempsey’s total commitment to the USMNT and his desire to help the team play to the best of its ability has been unquestionable. And with the absence of Landon Donovan for much of the last two years, Dempsey’s presence has been the glue that has held the team together.
Dempsey’s style of leadership is no doubt different from what many would envision as a prototypical captain. He is usually not the most vocal player on the field, preferring to allow his game to do the talking. Although, even this appears to be changing. During the U.S.’s recent game against Germany, Dempsey was more than vocal with late-game substitute Terrence Boyd when Boyd lost possession several times when the U.S. was holding onto a late lead.
Dempsey is also not the type of player who runs all over the field. In fact, Dempsey’s preference to let the game come to him has led to some fans in the past calling Dempsey lazy.
To be sure, Dempsey does have a tendency to float in and out of games, but watching him play for both club and country over the past five years as he has hit the prime of his career, it has become obvious that Dempsey’s abilities can only truly be appreciated by watching his contributions over a full 90 minutes.
While Dempsey can, at times, appear to be almost disinterested in the game, he also then has the uncanny ability to pop up in the right place at the right time for the big goal. Against Germany last week, it was tough to pick out the better of his two goals, as both were spectacular.
Dempsey has also scored big goals for the U.S. against Spain and Brazil in the Confederations Cup, England in the World Cup and the game-winner against Italy in a friendly in 2012. He currently has 35 international goals, second only to Donovan.
Dempsey's 23 goals for Fulham a year ago were a record for an American in Europe. He was the third-leading scorer in the English Premier League in 2011-12, despite playing for a mid-table side, and his golazo against Juventus became a YouTube classic.
Dempsey’s six years in England has given him experience at the highest levels of the game, playing with and against some of the best players in the world—exactly the type of experience he can then share with the U.S.’ relatively young and inexperienced squad.
Finally, Dempsey has the toughness, confidence and swagger that a captain needs to have. In the now famous “Deuce Face” incident last September, Dempsey confronted a Jamaican player who had apparently elbowed Jermaine Jones in a challenge for a header. The confrontation not only led to the hilarious posters present later at the October qualifiers, but led Taylor Twellman to remark during the Jamaican game broadcast. “There’s not one single person in this world that that man is going to step down from.”
The USMNT has been in a tough period of transition over the past year. Often missing its most veteran players for one reason or another and trying to integrate a new generation in the middle of World Cup qualifying has been challenging. But Dempsey has been a calming presence during that transition and willing to bear the bulk of the responsibility for the team as the young team gets its footing. And the U.S.’s recent five-game unbeaten streak in qualifying speaks for itself and Dempsey's growing role as the U.S.'s leader.
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