On Christmas Eve, after weeks of speculation, Fulham FC officially announced the move of Clint Dempsey to the club on winter loan—a move which should be of tremendous benefit to the USMNT and essential to the team's success in the World Cup next summer.
As the most consistent goal scorer for the United States men’s national team over the past two years (12 goals in 19 games), the form and fitness of Dempsey is critical to the U.S.’s World Cup hopes in 2014.
Dempsey himself admitted as much in a recent interview in which he said he made the move to Fulham because he “wanted to get back to playing at the highest level, get back to top form…Going into a World Cup year you want to get to that top form.”
Since setting an American record for goals scored in a European season during the 2011-12 campaign with 23 goals in all competitions (a record that has since been broken by Jozy Altidore), Dempsey has struggled to hit a consistent run of good form.
In the summer of 2012, Dempsey’s long drawn out transfer saga saw him shut out of Fulham’s preseason camp and even their games in the month of August. He finally transferred to Tottenham on deadline day, but the lack of a preseason meant Dempsey did not play a competitive match between June 12, 2012 and September 7, 2012 (both matches for the USMNT).
The long delay in the transfer resulted in a slow start for Dempsey with Spurs and, combined with a number of other factors, Dempsey’s 2012-13 season was less successful than the 2011-12 season had been—he only scored 12 goals in all competitions with his new club.
Following his season with Tottenham, Dempsey resumed his national team duties this summer, leading the squad to a friendly victory over Germany and captaining the squad to World Cup qualifying wins over Panama, Jamaica and Honduras. Those CONCACAF wins put the USMNT on the brink of locking up their spot in the 2014 World Cup.
However, another series of long spells without competitive matches awaited Dempsey.
As the summer moved on, it became obvious that he would be surplus to requirements with Tottenham as they began spending their Gareth Bale transfer money on a number of attacking midfielders. Dempsey once again missed pre-season training and eventually decided to leave the Spurs, coming back to America and Major League Soccer with the Seattle Sounders.
His first game with the Sounders was not until August 11, nearly two months after his last competitive match (the U.S.’s World Cup qualifier against Honduras on June 18).
Dempsey’s lack of form with the Sounders was obvious right from the start, as it took him two and a half months to score his first goal for the club. Dempsey also missed nearly a month of his already shortened MLS season with a hamstring strain and played his last five MLS games of the 2013 season with a shoulder strain that clearly prevented him from being at his best.
In total, he finished the 2013 MLS season with one goal in 12 games.
With Dempsey available to start playing with the Cottagers on January 1, he will have the ability to get back into top form before the MLS season starts on March 8 and, thus, be in top form for the U.S. come next summer.
Over the last 18 months, Dempsey has spent over eight months sidelined by summer breaks, transfer drama and injuries. His club form has clearly suffered and despite being the crux of the USMNT for the past two years, Dempsey has not scored a goal in open play for the U.S. in over 475 minutes—a stretch going back over five games to June 2.
In his current form, Dempsey may not play much for Fulham in January and February, but nonetheless, the experience of training on a daily basis with an EPL club should be enough to help him get off to a good start in MLS in 2014—the exact type of start he needs to get back to his best.
As the U.S.'s leading scorer, as well as the team's captain and preeminent player, Dempsey will need to be in top form if the U.S. is to have any chance of success in Brazil.
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