If you've followed the transfer rumor mill in England over the summer, you know that Chelsea made a run at signing Liverpool central midfielder, Champions League winning hero, and all around talisman Steven Gerrard. There is no question that Gerrard is a spectacular talent that nearly any team would be happy to have, the question is where does he fit in a central midfield with Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard?
Gerrard's skills don't exactly duplicate those of either Makelele or Lampard - he is a hybrid of the two players. Where Makelele is almost purely a defensive midfielder and Lampard is almost purely an offensive player, Gerrard is effective in the tackle and on the attack but not better than either specialist at their specialty. So you wonder what his role would have been had he made the jump to Chelsea.
Why bring this up? The simple answer is Clint Dempsey.
Of the young players introduced to the squad since the beginning of 2005, Dempsey is the only one who has made a case for himself to be considered for Germany next summer. Since his entry onto the USMNT scene, Dempsey has done nothing but be around the ball in dangerous situations. His 10 matches so far this year - including 3 starts - have produced a very respectable goal and an assist.
More important than the statistics, though, is the fact that the ball seems to find him near the net the same way it finds Eddie Johnson. To imply that the positions Dempsey finds himself in are due to nothing more than good fortune is to sell short the intelligence of his runs.
I'll admit it, when you watch him play for both club and country, you aren't blown away by any single aspect of his game. He isn't the fastest guy out there, but he isn't a plodder either. He isn't McBride in the air, but he is stronger than his frame might indicate. He isn't as creative as Donovan, nor does he have Landon's shot but he is productive on both counts.
The thing that you notice most is that that he tends to be in the middle of good things and it's hard to leave a player like that out. The question is, where does Clint fit once the full squad is assembled next summer? Does he play a meaningful part? Or is he the American answer to Steven Gerrard, an excellent player destined for a secondary role for his country?
Two spots in the offense must be conceded to Johnson and Donovan who have established themselves as legitimate threats to score in every game they play. That leaves 3 slots in the offensive part of the formation two of which will ideally go to wing players - presumably Eddie Lewis and DaMarcus Beasley. That leaves one offensive slot available in front of the holding midfielder.
Bruce Arena seems to have been of two minds in recent months, in some cases he has started Donovan up front as a second striker with someone else, usually Claudio Reyna, in the traditional #10 role.
In other cases, he has started Donovan as the midfield catalyst and started two traditional strikers. It seems unlikely that Dempsey would supplant Brian McBride as a second striker or Claudio Reyna (or even a healthy John O'Brien) in the center of midfield.
In either scenario, Clint, like Gerrard, can't provide all of the skills of the people who he might hope to replace. The most likely outcome is that, for the immediate future, he is cast in the role of super-sub for the USMNT.
Imagine a defense that has been chasing Johnson, Donovan and Beasley for 75 minutes and fighting off McBride at the same time. Dempsey could replace any of those players and, like a good possession receiver in the NFL, find the holes in the defense created by those more well-known teammates and exploit them.
In the meantime, if he is to secure a starting spot as he enters the prime of his career around World Cup 2010, he must develop one skill that will compel the manager to start him.
Why would you start Olsen and Armas together? They're same player, no wonder it was an ugly game...I can't tell if O'Brien had a bad game or he just didn't get the ball in a position to do anything with it...Landon Donovan is like crack to Bruce Arena during the Gold Cup, he doesn't want to feel like he has to use him but he can't resist because it's the only thing that'll make him feel that good...He hasn't done anything horribly wrong, but Jimmy Conrad doesn't make me feel good about his prospects as a USMNT contributor and at 28, he seems unlikely to get better, one wonders why Chad Marshall didn't get the call...Stick a fork in him, Tony Sanneh is done - he should be congratulated on an excellent career and bow out as gracefully as possible...