Dempsey's absence rare certainty for US team in limbo

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Of all the questions surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans for the US national team over the next few weeks, at least one thing is absolutely certain.

There’s a hold on those waiting to see Clint Dempsey.

The US head coach revealed what most expected on Friday, that the Fulham striker will not suit up in the Americans’ matchup against Scotland at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com) due to a nagging groin injury that he carried into US camp this week.

The Scotland matchup is the first of three friendlies for the US ahead of the first stage of World Cup qualifying next month. Klinsmann said he’s hopeful that Dempsey, who perhaps for the first time in his international career carries the weight of being the biggest star on the US roster, is available for the Americans’ friendly against Brazil in Landover, Md., on May 30.

“Clint is unavailable for this weekend … we have big hopes that he can make it for the Brazil game,” Klinsmann said on a teleconference with media on Friday. “We take it one day at a time.”

The groin injury kept Dempsey out of Fulham's Premier League finale, and his work during camp this week was limited than running and ball work.

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Two other players unlikely to play on Saturday are defenders Michael Parkhurst and Clarence Goodson, who arrived to camp in Orlando on Thursday night fresh off the conclusion of the Danish season. Striker Jozy Altidore, who has been held back by his club team AZ Alkmaar until May 28, is also not available.

Three keys to Scotland

But aside from those obvious omissions to the group, there’s still plenty of guessing as to what Klinsmann will do with his roster in the Scotland match and beyond.

He’s mixing and matching a group that’s both young (Terrence Boyd, Joe Corona) and old (Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra), with some late bloomers (Chris Wondolowski, Herculez Gomez) and a crowded midfield that leaves perhaps the biggest questions heading into Saturday night.

Klinsmann has toyed with a number of different formations and ideas since taking the reins last August, and evidently he spent some time still tweaking the group this week in camp in Central Florida.  

The end result, however, remains the same: attack, attack, attack.

He wants to push forward and mold a more attack-minded group, with focus on possession, distribution out of the back and a back four line that pushes further up the field than perhaps most US followers are used to. But he insisted that he’s not dogmatic about a specific system.

“If those elements come out of a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3, a 4-3-2-1 or whatever system you want to choose, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It depends on the players on the field. When we have different players, we have different options.”

Klinsmann said the team even offered up a “Christmas tree” look this week, with LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan finally back in the mix and part of a 4-3-2-1 formation.

“We want to pass the ball as quickly as possible into the forward areas, and create some stuff,” he said. “We see more and more how the players are getting comfortable with each other, they understand what we are asking for, and then they’re able to actually implement different systems in order to follow the same ideas of the style.”

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But while the midfield could field Donovan, savvy Mexican pro Jose Torres and perhaps the breakout star of this spring’s Olympic qualifying in Corona, the forward ranks are relatively thin on experience with Dempsey and Altidore on the outside looking in.

Those left include the trio of Gomez, Wondolowski and Boyd, who have 16 career caps between them. Wondolowski is the MLS jewel of the three, having scored 11 goals in 12 games for the San Jose Earthquakes this season.

The backline appears to be more established, with veteran Oguchi Onyewu healthy again and teaming with the captain Bocanegra at center back. Steve Cherundolo is the natural starter at right back, with Mexican pro Edgar Castillo and Bundesliga regular Fabian Johnson the options at left back.

Houston Dynamo defender Geoff Cameron, who shone well enough in camp in January to earn another shot this time around, will likely start on the bench.

There are also questions surrounding the midfield pecking order and positioning of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman, but Klinsmann appears to be comfortable with the time he has left to sort out any potential messes.

Or at least, let the players sort it all out themselves.

“The players, they understand now that we would like to adjust ourselves to the best in the world,” Klinsmann said. “We want to improve our game and every little detail to catch up with the top 10, top 15 teams in the world.

“We see that from the players,” he said. “They want to see where their limits are, and we continue that process. It’s a process that won’t happen overnight, it will take time.”