COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It doesn't snow all that often in Nacogdoches, Texas, Clint Dempsey's hometown.
But the US national team's newest captain looked every inch the native Coloradan on Friday night, throwing himself around the field at Dick's Sporting Goods Park with abandon in the USMNT's crucial 1-0 win over Costa Rica.
It was an inspirational performance that reflected his pride in the honor bestowed upon him this week by coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“Yeah, it felt good,” he said after the game, which was decided by his 16th-minute tap-in. “It's my second time to be a captain but my first time to start a game, and a game of such importance, being a World Cup qualifier, and a game we needed to win to get the three points, to play a part in the team's success in the sense of leading the team in a game like tonight.”
Dempsey and several of his teammates set the tone for the frosty night when they trotted out on the field in short sleeves for the opening kickoff, providing a stark contrast to the shivering, well-insulated Costa Ricans. And perhaps no one on the field hit the snow more often throughout the evening – “second half, I couldn't feel my fingers at all, I had to put on gloves,” Dempsey admitted – as he weathered some bruising challenges from the Ticos' defense.
“He seemed like he really liked the snow,” cracked Klinsmann. “Just kidding. No, I mean, he's proud to have the captain's armband. He's obviously thrilled to score that goal right away, and he's leading by example.
“And he's ready for this road. He's ready to step it up as a real leader for his team. He's a player who has 93 caps now – it's about time that he becomes captain, too. I did that a bit earlier. So he really led by example.”
As Klinsmann pointed out in his postgame remarks, the Ticos adapted well to the wintry conditions as the game played out. But they could not overcome the strong start spearheaded by “Deuce,” whose instinctive movement towards goal as Jozy Altidore hit a low drive from 18 yards out set him up for the simple finish that proved to be the night's decisive moment.
“Clint's always got that sniff,” said a smiling Altidore afterwards. “He's always following plays up.”
Dempsey took care to deflect credit onto his comrades, just as one might expect from a captain.
“Give a lot of credit to the boys, they fought hard, kept a clean sheet,” said Dempsey. “What really helped us tonight was getting that early goal – [Costa Rica] had to chase the game and they got even more frustrated because they were behind. And the fact that they were having to deal with the conditions, it made it difficult for anybody to play. But we showed a lot of character to grind out a result like that.”