With Carlos Bocanegra absent, the United States needed a stand-in captain for their World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. Many put Michael Bradley’s name forward and there were suspicions Jermaine Jones could end up with the armband, but when U.S. Soccer announced that Clint Dempsey would captain the team over the next two days, the decision seemed to be met with a collective “Yeah, that makes sense.”
This is one of those things that only becomes important if you screw it up. It’s not that the captaincy doesn’t matter at all — the attitude within the team means it does, a little — but it only becomes important if the wrong man gets the honor. If the position is handed out carelessly or used by the boss to make a point, the decision could create divisions or undermine other important figures.
That’s not going to happen with Dempsey. Currently the most accomplished player in the team (and the least likely to be left out of a starting XI), “Deuce” getting the armband was the default choice.
“Clint is one of our most experienced players and ready to assume a more vocal leadership role,” Jurgen Klinsmann said in a release from U.S. Soccer. “He has been huge for us in World Cup Qualifying so far and is already one of our key leaders. We know he will do a great job for these two important games.”
Dempsey will be the fifth different player to wear the armband under Klinsmann, joining Bocanegra, Tim Howard, Jones and Kyle Beckerman.
According to German outlet Kicker, Bradley was the only other serious candidate. Based on his presence, experience, and role in the team, it would have been a sensible choice, but in giving the honor to Dempsey, Klinsmann’s acknowledging the player that’s accomplished most. He’s scored in two World Cup, worked his way through English soccer, and is now contributing to a Champions League-level club. Those kind of CV bullets are respected throughout the team and cast him into a de facto leadership role.
To this point, that role may have been confined to leading by example or serving as an important voice in a smaller section of the team. That’s just how the team was set up before. Bocanegra was the captain, and Landon Donovan had his unique place in the team. Everybody else fit in where they could.
Klinsmann may be looking for Dempsey expand that role, something that makes sense given the squad’s turnover. The old dynamic’s being blown up. Now players may move in and out of the team, but no matter how much the squad turns over, everybody’s aware of what Clint Dempsey’s done.
If Dempsey can leverage that respect in a leadership role, it could help stabilize the team, and while you want to be cautious about reading too much into a two-game move, words like take “a more vocal leadership role” hints at long-term goals with this short-term move.
Though he’s long been near the center of fan attentions, it may be time for “Deuce” may be asked to move front-and-center within the team.