With only four months left before the United States men's national team heads to Brazil for the World Cup, one of the major concerns for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. fans has to be the form of the team's key goalscorer, Clint Dempsey.
In six games on loan with Fulham this winter, he's scoreless. Last fall, he only scored one goal in 12 games for the Seattle Sounders. His only goal for the USMNT in the last nine months was a penalty kick against Costa Rica in September.
So what can Dempsey do before the U.S. heads to Brazil to get back his form and give the U.S. a fighting chance in their "group of death"?
One solution is for him to get off to a hot start in the 2014 Major League Soccer season, but that may be easier said than done. The 2014 Sounders will be a revamped squad, as they were one of the most active MLS teams this past off-season.
The big changes for the Sounders in 2014 will be the addition of Kenny Cooper and Marco Pappa, while Eddie Johnson and Mauro Rosales have left the team. How this will impact Seattle up top and in the midfield is still a question mark. New faces in the locker room also change a team's chemistry, but considering how the Sounders struggled at the end of the 2013 season, that may not be a bad thing.
On the plus side, the Sounders have brought in defensive reinforcements to bolster one of their weak spots from their 2013 campaign. MLS veterans Jalil Anibaba and Chad Marshall have joined the team and should help Seattle be stouter in the back. The team also has a solid core of returning players in Brad Evans, DeAndre Yedlin, Osvaldo Alonso, Lamar Neagle and Obafemi Martins.
If the Sounders and Dempsey can get off to a hot start, it will surely boost the striker's confidence heading into this summer and the World Cup. But, it will have to happen fast, as Seattle only has a dozen league games before the U.S. World Cup camp opens in May.
Another solution would be for Dempsey to get hot for the national team in its preparation games. Klinsmann has already indicated that the March friendly against the Ukraine will be primarily for European-based players. After that, the U.S. will play one friendly against Mexico in April before coming together at the end of May for final preparations.
As of right now, it appears the U.S. will play three friendlies in the U.S. between May 27 and June 7 before departing for Brazil. If Dempsey has regained his form by then, these games will be a good opportunity for him to get into a rhythm with his American teammates. If he hasn't regained his form by then, Klinsmann is going to be put into a difficult position.
At that point, the German coach could use the three friendlies in a last attempt to get Dempsey firing, or realize his key goalscorer is not ready and make adjustments from there. Those adjustments could include playing Landon Donovan as the withdrawn striker and moving Dempsey out wide or benching Dempsey altogether.
Klinsmann could also choose a more radical path and put the U.S. back into the 4-1-3-2 formation that worked well for the team in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying and abandon the No. 10 role completely.
Hopefully, for the sake of the team and its fans, Dempsey will be scoring again by May and all of that will be unnecessary.
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