Clint Dempsey, the captain of both the USMNT and the Seattle Sounders, took some time out of his hectic schedule to talk with Bleacher Report about the forthcoming MLS All-Star game against Bavaria's finest, Bayern Munich.
The game at Portland Timbers' Providence Park ground on Wednesday, August 6, kicks off 6:30 p.m. PT (9:30 p.m. ET/2:30 a.m. BST) and promises to showcase the best talent that MLS has to offer, with the Bundesliga champions providing genuine high-quality opposition.
Dempsey was an easy "Fans XI" pick for the All-Star squad after a stunning start to the Sounders MLS season—where they sit proudly atop the Western Conference—and a successful World Cup campaign which really engaged the U.S. footballing public.
It's the third time the 31-year-old Texan has been selected, after his appearances in 2005 and 2006, and clearly a prospect he is relishing:
B/R: The first All-Star games in the mid-90s were generally "East v West" type affairs. Since then, various European sides have been invited, but does having Bayern Munich in opposition represent a pinnacle for this fixture and if so, why?
CD: I mean it’s exciting for the fans, to have a game with the quality of players that will be on the pitch, especially Bayern in terms of the Champions League and being so successful there.
A lot of players playing with Germany in the World Cup, and winning the World Cup, but it’s still a pre-season game for them so it’s not like you’re playing them at midseason.
At the same time, you’re not playing an All-Star team that’s had a lot of time to work with each other. This was like the first time today that we had a training session, when we were all together.
Even though I’ve played with some of the players, whether it was with the national team or club teams I was on before, you still have to play together as a whole and play under the manager, Caleb Porter, and in terms of tactics and how you are going to try and figure out how to play.
So it’s not much time to try and get that product on the field; at the same time it’s an exciting game for everyone to be part of.
But that’s the dynamic you deal with when trying to set up a game like this, those are some of the things that come in to play.
B/R: What do you expect to encounter from a strong Bayern side that by Guardiola’s admission, per Geoffrey Arnold of OregonLive.com, isn’t in Portland to play for fun, but to win?
CD: Yeah I’m sure, you know, that’s what he demands.
That the team is always performing well whether it’s pre-season, whether it’s regular-season games, whether it’s Champions League, he expects a lot of his players.
That’s something that during the press conference today Thierry Henry was talking about.
So there’ll be players that are fighting to be in the starting XI, and the opportunity to show that they deserve to play so I’m sure that it’ll be an exciting game.
It’ll be an opportunity for some of the players here in the MLS All-Stars to test themselves against that type of competition, but it’s the balance for Caleb Porter in terms of balancing those minutes because people have games on the weekend.
And some teams are still pushing for playoff spots, so it’s one of those type of situations.
B/R: There’s a great deal of quality in the All-Star side too, but how does the team go about approaching what is essentially a competitive friendly, but one which falls slap-bang in the middle of regular MLS fixtures? Isn’t the threat of injury always in the back of your mind, so giving 100 percent isn't really an option?
CD: Yeah I mean it’s something that since the MLS has been going on, they’ve always had an MLS All-Star game.
You see that in other leagues in the States, like the NBA or the MLB baseball, and after a season for football you see the Pro Bowl which is where people get together.
So it’s difficult in terms of trying to make it a real competitive and serious game when you don’t have time necessarily if you’re on the All-Stars team to work on things, and to get your tactics as you would want them to be.
But that’s something that you deal with on an international level, times you’re getting called in and you have, you know, three days turnaround before you’re playing a game. It’s what all the other teams have to deal with.
From Bayern, this is a team that the main nucleus are used to playing with each other but I guess depending on what team they put out there’ll be an opportunity for people to play for spots or to maintain the spot that they have already.
So it’s a difficult balance but it’s good. It’s exciting for the fans, it’s exciting for the players, but it’s trying to manage it in the right way so that everybody is kinda happy because Bayern doesn’t want to pick up injuries and MLS All-Stars don’t want to pick up injuries.
You want to stay fresh for your games on the weekend, which matter because teams are pushing for playoff spots.
B/R: The Sounders lead the All-Star count with five representatives, all via the Fans XI pick. Given what a great season the team is having, that was expected, wasn't it?
CD: I mean I don’t know. Fans decide who should be playing.
You know during the season we’ve had a good run of form with the Seattle Sounders and I think we’ve played some exciting football that’s been entertaining for the fans but as of late, the last two games, we’ve had losses.
We’ve lost those two fixtures and we need to get back to winning ways and get back to the things that were the reason why we were top of the table.
We’re happy to represent Seattle Sounders in terms of the numbers, five players, but the most important thing for us is making sure that we finish the season strong.
We don’t just have a good first half of the season, that we finish strongly, stay towards the top of the table and a place for the MLS Cup.
B/R: What skill set will the five of you bring to the party?
CD: Well we lost one of the players who's not coming in, in Chad Marshall who’s very solid at the back, wins every 50/50 ball in the air, has good distribution out of the back.
So he won’t be here but DeAndre Yedlin, he’s a bright talent for the future, performed well not only for the Sounders but in the World Cup, stepping up at the age of 21 and making a difference in that tournament.
You have a guy like Osvaldo Alonso that’s come from Cuba, literally a Cinderella story because of how hard he’s had to work to get to where he is, and to be able to make an impact, become a DP player, an All-Star player.
Just his work rate in the midfield, his fearlessness, getting stuck in on the challenge, his fight that he has, you know I really enjoy playing with him.
And Obafemi Martins who’s had a great career, playing in World Cups, playing Champions League, playing with big clubs.
Playing with him is like playing pick-up because we’re on the same page in terms of the movement, what to look for, it’s like I’ve grown up playing with him.
He’s a great player. A person whose skill set I admire and he’s a pleasure to play with week in and week out.
B/R: This is the third time you’ve been selected for an All-Star squad. Describe what it means to you to represent the team for the first time in eight years….
CD: Yeah, I played three seasons when I was in MLS before I went to Europe, and every year I was able to be selected for the All-Star which was an honor.
Then I had the opportunity to go to Europe and test myself there which is something that I wanted to do, and I’m glad with what I was able to accomplish there. I have some great memories.
Now I’m happy to be back and pushing again in the league that gave me my start to go pro, so I’m excited about continuing to grow the game here in the States and also to represent Seattle Sounders and All-Star, and I thank the fans for their selection.
B/R: There’s been a huge buzz surrounding this match. Do you think that has a lot to do with a number of the USMNT squad being involved, and do you get the feeling that we might finally be at a watershed moment for the sport in the United States?
CD: In terms of a buzz building off of the back of the World Cup, yeah. I think more mainstream America gotten involved and were able to connect with players that played in the World Cup with the U.S. team, and also for other countries' players that play in MLS.
And you know the game is growing in the states, a TV deal is being done between Fox, ESPN and Univision, other franchises are popping up in terms of NYCFC and Orlando.
It just shows there is a demand for it and that the league is growing, that there’s more homegrown players, there’s more academies that give an opportunity to kids, that they don’t have to pay for their development in the game and I think it’s probably going to help to move the game in the right direction.
I think that, you know, it will just only get better.
And what you try to push for is to try and get to a World Cup final and win a major competition whether it’s World Cup, Copa America—which is exciting that it’s going to be on American soil in three years—or you know playing here in MLS.
I think it’s exciting times for the culture of soccer, which the rest of the world calls football, here in America.
B/R: Speaking of USMNT, there’s been a lot of hype surrounding Julian Green. Can the 19-year-old force his way into Guardiola’s plans for the new season, and what will he add to Bayern Munich?
CD: Well, I think that’s a question you need to ask Pep!
But he’s a player that definitely has a bright future and what I’ve seen of him in camp and being able to step up when he was called up in the World Cup, being able to get an important goal that gave us hope that if we got one more we could take it into penalties.
I think his confidence will continue to grow, he will feel more comfortable in the national team setting and I think his future’s bright, but it’s not up to me to decide or to tell you what I think will happen.
I think that’s a question for other people.
B/R: MLS Commissioner Don Garber, via MLSSoccer.com has called the game “one of the premier soccer events on the North American sports calendar.” Is the fixture destined for bigger and better things and a wider global appeal in future, for example because more stars of the European and world game are deciding to ply their trade in MLS?
CD: Yeah I think it’s something that’s exciting in the sports culture of the U.S., in terms of whether it’s MLB, NBA, NFL or MLS.
I mean All-Star is something that’s exciting for the fans, it’s a way for the fans to see their favourite players all play at the same time.
So, on a global scale I think it’s more interesting the more players that you have from different parts of the world, because people will feel a connection and want to watch those games.
But at the same time I kinda like the old East versus West, where you get to reward more players playing well during the season, and you can reward more coaches the opportunity to coach their respective conferences, whether it’s East or West.
But it’s still exciting.
B/R: Finally, how does Oberto Beef Jerky help you in your daily routine and your training?
CD: It’s a partnership and it means I’m able to be with a product that I enjoy personally. The campaign “you get out what you put in,” playing soccer, going fishing, things that I like to do, well sometimes you need to take a quick snack, something that’s healthy and all natural, and that’s what the product is.
So it’s good to have a partnership with them and that’s part of the reason we were able to make this interview happen today.
B/R: Thank you very much indeed for your time today Clint, much appreciated.
CD: No problem man, have a good one.
This interview was conducted in association with Oberto Beef Jerky—"You get out what you put in." All quotes were obtained firsthand by the author.
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