WASHINGTON – Jurgen Klinsmann is known for his sunny positivity, yet he may have saved the warmest praise of his 22-month reign as the head coach of the US national team for Clint Dempsey's dazzling double-goal performance in the Yanks' 4-3 friendly win over Germany at RFK Stadium on Sunday.
“Is he highly talented? Does he have all the tools that you need to have to play at the highest level? Yes,” said Klinsmann of his captain. “But what is far more important: He has the drive. He has the hunger. He's not satisfied. He's not satisfied today with scoring two goals against Germany, because he will only be maybe a little bit more satisfied if he scores in [Friday's World Cup qualifier at] Jamaica. He always looks for the next game. It is just in his own being, having that inner drive.
“Having a player like Clint Dempsey is a privilege, and if I look back, I think this is one of the best players in US history.”
Dempsey's brace against the three-time World Cup champions ran his career USMNT scoring mark to 35 goals, pushing past Eric Wynalda and into second on the all-time list, 14 behind Landon Donovan. The Texan received personal congratulations from Wynalda himself after the final whistle on the historic occasion of the U.S. Soccer Federation's centennial celebrations.
But true to Klinsmann's words, “Deuce” was already looking ahead to this month's most meaningful games, the trio of Hexagonal qualifiers which will go a long way towards determining whether the USA will be represented in Brazil next summer.
“We've got to make sure we get the job done in these next three games,” Dempsey said during an extended visit to the media mixed zone in RFK's subterranean tunnels. “Whether we'd have won these two friendlies [against Belgium and Germany], not won these two friendlies, it all matters what we do in these next three games. That's what it's all about and we've got to take care of business.
“The most important thing is that we do well in those games and make sure we qualify for the World Cup.”
Dempsey lamented the late fade that allowed Germany to roar back from a 4-1 deficit and leave the Yanks sweating over the game's closing stages, noting that a stingy defense will be pivotal in the Hex's final stretch.
“The thing that's frustrating is that we did concede three goals. We should've finished the game 4-1 or 4-2,” he said. “Now we've conceded seven goals in two games and we've got to do a better job of protecting [goalkeepers] Tim [Howard] and Brad [Guzan] and make sure that we keep clean sheets, because that's really what's going to help you get the most points … at the same time, we deserved the result because I thought we played well.”
Klinsmann cited that quiet relentlessness as a leading factor in his decision to hand the Tottenham attacker the captain's armband in March, and made clear that he expects it to rub off on his strike partner Jozy Altidore, who scored and assisted on Dempsey's first goal as part of a breakout performance of his own.
“He is asking me, 'What’s next for me? What do I have to do? I want to push myself,'” said the USMNT's German boss. “This is one of the reasons why I made him captain, because the players look at him, they see this kind of hunger and they see this drive, and they see also the moments where he maybe gets upset or something like that. And this is really important for our players to get that hunger and drive to push yourself.
“I think Jozy can learn so much from Clint, and is learning. They are starting to have a chemistry, they are starting to have an instinct for each other. That comes by time, it's not coming overnight. With his game right now, Clint is right on top with some of the best players in the world, and certainly the top player in the United States.”