PORTLAND, Ore. — We all should have known this was coming, but the issues might be worth a new thought or two, now that thought-to-be injured United States Men’s National Team captain Clint Dempsey is playing below me at JELD-WEN Field. Was he really injured at all? Or does this just shed more like on Jurgen Klinsmann’s approach to this week’s irrelevant (but supposedly still very important) World Cup Qualifiers?
Every other healthy national team regular was called into this week’s camp for games in Kansas City and Panama City. If you could play, you were showing up. Landon Donovan’s ankle injury? Jermaine Jones’s knee? They weren’t enough to keep those veterans out of Friday’s starting lineup, let alone prevent a call up. But the team’s captain? He’s in Seattle’s starting XI 48 hours later.
It’s hard to get too worked up about such things, considering the U.S. had locked up World Cup qualification long before kicking off against Jamaica at Sporting Park. But if you’re Peter Vermes, how do you feel knowing Matt Besler and Graham Zusi were taken from your squad ahead of Wednesday’s draw in Houston? Or how should Bruce Arena feel if he finds out Landon Donovan’s ankle’s worse after 45 minutes in Kansas City? Why does Dempsey get to help his team while Besler, Zusi, and Donovan don’t get to help theirs?
That’s not to say Seattle hasn’t been hurt by U.S. call ups. Both Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans are valuable parts of Sigi Schmid’s team. But Seattle is still getting a benefit other teams are not. The question is: Why?
Odds are there is no ‘why.’ The specifics of Dempsey’s situation probably serve as a reminder: We can’t read too much into any single set of circumstances. Dempsey’s healthy may have meant a different decision-making process than Donovan’s or Jones’s.
For Dempsey, continuity may have been the overriding factor. Rather than call up a player that hadn’t fully settled at club level, Klinsmann may have elected to let his captain play out the season with Seattle: get into a rhythm; get healthy; get better. Perhaps those were the circumstances that distinguished the Dempsey decision from Donovan’s.
And perhaps it was always the case that Donovan was going to return to LA after one game. Maybe Seattle’s not getting a benefit that LA won’t receive on Wednesday against Montréal.
It does, however, shed some light on Jurgen Klinsmann’s approach to this week’s qualifiers. In the run-up to the roster announcement, the U.S. coach said the team owed it to themselves to put their best foot forward. When a full team minus the injured Dempsey and Michael Bradley (also injured) was recalled, it looked like the U.S. coach was as good as his word. The United States would go all-out against Jamaica and Panama – to the extent they could.
But now, with Dempsey playing in Portland, Donovan on his way back to Los Angeles, and Tim Howard flying back to Liverpool, those words don’t look so reliable. Now, they seem like a healthy amount of coach-speak from somebody who’s usually a relative straight-shooter.