Questions linger in U.S. camp over Clint Dempsey’s fitness for tonight’s qualifier vs. Costa Rica

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A potentially important sidebar has fallen between cracks ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica, lost amid the dominant narrative of Friday’s match in the San Jose suburbs, the silly and probably highly ineffective gamesmanship at high levels from the Costa Rican federation.

(Serioulsy, guys … do you Ticos believe you are doing anything other than adding motivational fuel to the U.S. fire with these hijinks?)

Clint Dempsey will hardly be at his best tonight. Dempsey will surely play when the teams meet at Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional, but there is an awareness in the U.S. camp that his spring and his stamina just aren’t where they need to be.

A source close to the U.S. team confirms that manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff has assessed that Dempsey is well behind where the “full-on Dempsey”  would be, currently at roughly 60 percent of ideal fitness.

(Considering the advanced testing performed to begin every U.S. camp, percentage estimates are probably a little more than just “estimates.” There is a real, quantifiable percentage of potential maximum output to be gleaned from all the blood work, hydration assessments and scientific physical tests that go on.)

Klinsmann apparently regards Dempsey at or near the same place at this time one year ago, when his holdout from Fulham workouts and 11th hour transfer into Spurs meant missing about a month of team training.

(MORE: U.S. – Costa Rica rivaly reaches new heights)

Interestingly, Dempsey started both World Cup qualifying matches at this time last year even though he was clearly and substantially less that 100 percent fit. He even scored in the first contest, a 2-1 qualifier loss at Jamaica. Four nights later, Dempsey started again in a 1-0 win over Jamaica in Columbus.

But if we got back and examine those matches, Dempsey’s influence was marginal other than the early goal vs. Jamaica. The effort and the will were there; it’s Clint Dempsey, after all. But the legs and lungs simply weren’t properly prepared for two international level matches, plus the tax of travel, etc.

So why wouldn’t Dempsey be more than the estimates in camp of 60 percent or so? He has, after all, been with the Sounders almost a month, and has gone 90 minutes for Sigi Schmid’s MLS side three times now. (Plus almost an hour in his debut off the bench against Toronto back on Aug. 10.)

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Klinsmann is 24-8-6 with the U.S. national team in two years.

It’s a good question, one that Klinsmann has not addressed specifically. But the manager has talked in the past about differing approaches by MLS clubs, most of which concentrate on recovery between matches rather than building longer-term endurance.

Plus, Dempsey did a lot of promotional work as he joined the Sounders last month. Appearances on the national talk show circuit are a major and figuratively profitable publicity score for MLS. But there is an undeniable price to pay in terms of short-term performance. Dempsey, through no fault of his own, in fairness, because he would always prefer a soccer field to a TV studio, is paying it now.

Best guess: Dempsey will start tonight but will perform on a relatively short lease. After all, Klinsmann (pictured above) has something he did not at this time last year, when the manager forced fitness on Dempsey by playing him all 90 minutes in those two big qualifiers, even though the U.S. attacker was clearly not at his best.

This time Klinsmann can potentially turn to Landon Donovan, who was in the “Dempsey” role for that entire, swashbuckling Gold Cup run. And come to think of it, a Donovan-for-Dempsey switch somewhere between the 60th and 70th minute doesn’t sound like a bad plan at all, does it?

(MORE: Who might start tonight for the United States?)

Chicharito says Mexican team “always feels welcome” in the United States

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Mexico will take on Wales on Monday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA as they warm up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Playing in the United States is nothing new for the USMNT’s southern neighbors, and it doesn’t phase them. In fact, they love it.

Star striker Chicharito told reporters that he and the rest of the squad is more than happy playing north of the border, because according to him, apart from a pair of venues, they can’t even tell they’re on the road.

“We always feel welcome here,” Chicharito said. “It’s like our second country, if we can say that, apart from Columbus [Ohio] and apart from the stadium in Miami when we played Colombia…those two stadiums, that’s the only time I’ve felt that we were the away team.”

Chicharito knows that the high population of his countrymen and women in the United States helps the Mexican team feel close to home when they play over the border. He’s all for the melting pot of the US.

“We feel at home [in the United States],” Chicharito said. “We have plenty of Mexicans here, so I don’t know what else to tell you, we feel welcome, we feel glad, happy to be in touch with those people here. They are sacrificing a lot of things, and they are all enjoying their lives that they decide to live in the USA…it’s great. It’s great when you come to another country and you feel like you are home. You see all the stadium green, shouting and screaming your names, screaming your goals, so yeah, it’s great.”

Mexico will play Wales on Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET, and will return home to take on Scotland at Azteca on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

England international Delph expecting child in middle of World Cup

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England international Fabian Delph could face quite the dilemma if England advances past the group stage of the World Cup.

Delph’s wife Natalie is expecting the couple’s third child on June 30, which is two days after their pivotal group stage match against Belgium, and two days before the squad would take the field July 1 for its Round of 16 game should they win Group G. If they finish second in the group, they would play their Round of 16 game on July 3.

When asked what his plans are, Delph joked that his wife would manage on her own. “She’s tough, she’s a Yorkshire lass so she’ll deal with it,” Delph said with a smile.

He then coughed up the truth: they’re not quite sure what the plan is.

“We’re not 100% certain, with a game on the 28th there might be an opportunity to fly back and then get back fast,” he said. “[England manager] Gareth [Southgate] has been fantastic. There’s nothing more important than family to me – family always comes first and always will.”

There’s another dilemma that Southgate must navigate involving Delph. The 28-year-old is a natural winger, but played wing-back in Pep Guardiola‘s title-winning system for much of the year and saw a massive uptick in form in the new role, playing in place of the injured Benjamin Mendy. Southgate must decide where he wants to deploy Delph – if at all – and if he wishes to fit his formation and tactics to mold Delph’s season under Guardiola.

Authorities drop assault charges against Hope Solo

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KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) — Prosecutors in Washington state have dropped domestic violence charges against former U.S. national team star goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Solo was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault in 2014 after police said she assaulted two family members at a home in Kirkland, east of Seattle. The case was delayed by appeals.

KING-TV reports that city prosecutors dropped the charges Wednesday, saying the witnesses in the case wanted to move on with their lives and did not want to participate in a trial. An attorney for Kirkland, Melissa Osman, wrote in court documents that the circumstances were unlikely to be repeated.

The longtime national team goalkeeper and two-time Olympic gold medalist recently ran unsuccessfully for president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. She has called for equal pay and equal treatment for the U.S. women’s team.

Mark Hughes signs new long-term contract at Southampton

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Mark Hughes has gone from Stoke City outcast to Southampton savior in little under six months time.

The Welsh boss was let go from Stoke City with the Potters 18th in the table and headed towards eventual relegation, but he was picked up by fellow relegation candidates Southampton after the departure of Mauricio Pellegrino. He steered the club to safety, finishing three points above the drop in 17th.

With the Saints in the top flight for another season, the club has announced the signing of Hughes to a new three-year contract.

“Mark, Eddie and I are thrilled to have signed long-term contracts with the club. It was the only option we considered, having spent the last eight weeks with the club,” Hughes said of himself and his assistant coaches Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki. “Now it is vital that we take the unbelievable support we received from the fans during the last few games into next season. The staff and the players will work hard every day to deliver the success this club deserves, and with everyone pulling together we will achieve our goals.”

Hughes guided Stoke City to three consecutive ninth-placed finishes, the highest the club had ever finished in the English top flight, but they finished 13th last year and regressed even further this campaign. The sale of playmaker Marko Arnautovic was particularly damaging, and the club scored just 35 goals in 38 games as a result.

At Southampton, Hughes took over a club that sat in 17th with just eight matches to go. He lost three Premier League games in a row to start his tenure and only won two league matches with Saints the rest of the way, but managed to keep the club barely afloat.