DAVID SMITH - Monday, June 7, 2010
With less than one week remaining before opening their sixth straight World Cup campaign, Clint Dempsey is confident a unified US team will build on the promise hinted on their last trip to South Africa.
The Fulham favorite stood out as one of the brightest spots in the Nats' surprising run to the Confederations Cup final last summer, and is ready to help his team once again surprise the soccer world with another inspired performance one year later.
While the American squad has experienced several notable bumps in the months since, both on and off the field, the veteran midfielder feels that the pieces are finally coming together at the right moment.
"Things are going good now and we have a good attitude around this camp," the Texas native assuredly told YA, adding "We're looking to do something special and hopefully we can do that."
Even though the team is seen by most of the world as, at best, a darkhorse candidate to make a run through the deeper stages of the tournament, the scorer of the team's lone offensive goal in the 2006 edition accepts no such attitude, and expects no less of his teammates.
They will have their first chance to state their intentions to the world on June 12 when they face England in a match which will see them try to repeat the feat of 60 years prior when they stunned the World by beating the perennial powerhouse.
"Of course," Dempsey defiantly declares as to whether the US can pull off a second upset, "if we didn't believe that we could, why would we be here?"
"I shouldn't be a part of this team if I didn't feel we could do something special," he continues. "Anytime you put on the US jersey, you think you can do a good job. If you don't you shouldn't be here."
His confidence of the team's ability is not alone amongst the wearers of the Red, White and Blue, as he sees all 23 players banding together to show that last summer's accomplishment was not a fluke.
"We're ready and we're trying to do something special. Hopefully we can do something special like we did in the Confederations Cup, and do it here."
The major concern for the team heading into the tournament was the rash of injuries to hit many of their most vital players in the months before, with a number of starters from last summer's second-place team missing significant amounts of time for their respective clubs in recent months.
Dempsey himself was not exempt from this list, with a knee injury early earlier in the year temporarily raising some doubts amongst fans as to his ability to fully participate in South Africa.
"It's always difficult going through injury," he admits. "It's frustrating because every player wants to be on the field playing."
Beyond being forced to watch from the sidelines while recovering, his status as one of the leading figures on the national team gave rise to a plenitude of media speculation about the severity of his injury, most of which was fortunately far wide of the mark.
"What upset me the most was stuff getting leaked out that wasn't true about my injury," he explains. "At the same time the people who needed to know, like my family, Bob [Bradley] and people at the national team, knew what was going on. We knew it wasn't that serious, in the sense of needing surgery or potentially missing the World Cup."
The former New England Revolution star's disjointed playing time over the final months leading into the tournament, during which he also missed time due to a thigh injury and played several games in a substitute role while regaining fitness, could be seen as a concern for a player expected to be a linchpin of the team's attack.
This, however, is of little concern to Dempsey, who looks to his broader experience gained in England over the years since his first World Cup appearance in Germany.
"I think it helps because it's one of the best leagues in the world," he ascertains of the league's effect on his maturation as a player since his overseas move from MLS. "For three years I have been consistently good, and I take that confidence with me to the World Cup."
This very confidence, along with his continued solid play from the start in the team's recent tune-up wins over Turkey and Australia, are precisely the two ingredients Dempsey feels will be the most important he can bring to the team as they prepare to begin their run at history whey they take the field against England on Saturday.
"When you get to international play, it's different than club play. All you can take with you is your confidence and your form," he concludes.
"Those are the positives I'll take from that league and take into this game."