Despite loss of captaincy, Dempsey remains USMNT’s talisman: Klinsmann, teammates

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Clint Dempsey is no longer captain of the U.S. national team, surely you’ve heard.

Following an in-game outburst three weeks ago, which saw the 32-year-old Seattle Sounders forward angrily destroy a game referee’s notebook thus earning himself a three-game  suspension from Major League Soccer, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made the tough decision to appoint Michael Bradley as his new captain.

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Following Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Honduras to open the Yanks’ 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign, one message remained clear from the likes of Klinsmann, goalkeeper Brad Guzan and midfielder Kyle Beckerman: Dempsey may no longer be captain, but his value and status within the USMNT remains at an all-time high.

“We made a decision and he was absolutely on board with it,” said Klinsmann during his post-game press conference. “I was a striker myself, and to go through those moments where you made a mistake or did something wrong, all you want to do is move on. As a striker, what you want to do the most is score. You live for that as a striker.”

Two hours earlier, Dempsey had done just that, as he bagged a brace at Toyota Stadium, three hours down the road from where he grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas. In his first competitive game since the incident, Dempsey delivered the goods and, despite no longer serving as captain, led his teammates to victory.

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Klinsmann’s comments were consistently echoed by Dempsey’s teammates during the post-game mixed zone, most notably by goalkeeper Brad Guzan and midfielder Kyle Beckerman.

“When he was captain, obviously he had all of our respect,” said Guzan. “He always has our respect. Listen, he’s a world-class player. He’s played in the Premier League for [seven] years, he’s been successful in Europe, he’s been successful with the national team, successful in MLS, so whether he has the armband or not, we need leaders up and down the pitch and that’s what he is. He’s a leader, he leads by example and he did that tonight.”

“I don’t think it’s bothered him at all,” said Beckerman. “I think that’s in the past for him. He made a mistake, and now it’s just about moving on. Clint did what he does tonight, and I think we’ll be needing him again to score some more goals.”

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If Dempsey was at all bothered by Klinsmann’s decision, you wouldn’t know it from his words or body language.

“Anytime you can score a goal, it always feels good,” said Dempsey with a wry smile. “The first goal was maybe a little bit lucky because the ‘keeper made a save and it came to me. I didn’t get much on it, but just happened to be in the right place. The second goal was really just a good ball in from Michael (Bradley), I wasn’t really being marked and was able to get a good look on goal.”

“I always approach the game the same — I go out and try to help my team win,” he went on to say. “I’m in the same situation in Seattle — I’m not the captain there — so I just enjoy playing and try to go out and help the team win. That’s what I’ve always done throughout my career.”

Dempsey’s new role within the USMNT is clear, and it’s not at all different from what his job has been throughout his entire career: score goals. On Tuesday night, Dempsey did his job. If he continues to do his job throughout this tournament and leads the Yanks to a second straight Gold Cup title, even those outside the USMNT’s inner circle will be quick to cut Dempsey additional slack and move on, as well.