SALT LAKE CITY – The bulk of the players in Salt Lake City for Tuesday’s qualifier are coming off grueling seasons in Europe or Mexico. The down time ahead will be precious for recovery of mind and body.
But a big theme around the U.S. camp seems to be finishing strong, not only for the obvious reason of further improvement in positioning within the six-team group of final round World Cup qualifying. They also seem to driving home the point to themselves and everyone else that for optimum enjoyment of the three or four weeks off, they need to finish strong on Tuesday night inside sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium.
Otherwise, they’ll be dealing with some nagging and negative thoughts when they could be taking a bigger bite of enjoyment out of their weeks off.
Clint Dempsey talked about that very thing Saturday during our conversation, and then addressed it once again Monday at a mid-day press gathering. (One held indoors and out of the heat in Utah, where the temperatures will reach into the 90s today.)
“Right now, I’m trying to focus on this last game so that I can have a good vacation,” Dempsey said Monday. “You won’t have a good vacation if we don’t get all the points tomorrow night, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The “last” game is the fifth of five in the national team shirt over the last three weeks. It served as a three-week extension to their long seasons. Players like Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore, Sacha Kljestan, Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard and others are first-choice figures who logged plenty of minutes over the last 10 months of club soccer.
“Players like Clint and the other European players, they want to go on a well-deserved vacation on a high note,” Klinsmann said. “The next World Cup qualifier will be in September, so you set the tone for that match.”
The important back story here is that one year ago the United States was so very close to doing just that, about to spirit off into the summer off a qualifier win at Guatemala. But Marco Pappa’s 83rd minute free kick left the United States to split the points in a 1-1 tie – also leaving Klinsmann still feeling a bit hungry as he pushed away from the World Cup qualifier table for a while. The United States wouldn’t be back together for about two months.
Said Klinsmann: “I don’t want to have that feeling in my stomach again going into summer break, like last summer against Guatemala…. You just don’t want that.”