Clint Dempsey may have endured a difficult loan spell at Fulham this winter, but US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann believes the player's hard work at the relegation-threatened club is paying off now.
Klinsmann, speaking about several USMNT-related topics on Wednesday, discussed his captain's impact so far this MLS season with the Seattle Sounders, where he's scored six goals and three assists in five appearances.
"[I'm] very happy that Clint has picked up the rhythm and find his confidence and is part of almost every goal that Seattle scores. That’s really a good sign, it’s great for us going into the final weeks before we hit the preparation for the World Cup knowing that he’s building his confidence more and more and more," he said.
"And it’s due to his hard work that he put in for January, February, being at Fulham. It was not a successful time, but he built a foundation for the months afterward so he seems to now at the right time, at the right spot."
The US boss also discussed the tricky balance in the weeks leading up to the World Cup between protecting players from injury and ensuring they are at peak fitness in Brazil.
"You hope that everybody stays healthy," Klinsmann said. "You always forgive a bad performance. Bad performances, everybody has those, everybody can have a bad day. But first and foremost you want them to stay healthy from now on because if a new injury now happens, you have pretty much no chance to recover any more before the World Cup.
"At the same time you also want to play with the right intensity, with the right seriousness and sharpness and you don’t want them to hold back, because there’s no way [when] we go into camp to hold back in the training session because it’s going to be all full speed and intense so you want them to be prepared in the best way possible and the best way is to play at your maximum potential," he added.
Along with the preparations for the full senior team, taking the lion's share of the spotlight this year, for good reason, Klinsmann and US Soccer are already laying the groundwork for future US national team development with the establishment of the U-21 age group, who are first looking to the 2016 Olympics.
"It’s exciting to see the future Olympic team come together [for] the first time," he explained. "We call them right now the U-21 cycle because officially it’s not the Olympic team cycle yet, but it’s really, really important that we get our hands around these guys, telling them where their path should lead to. Obviously the big goal is Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and then also their path towards the senior national team."
Though U-20 head coach and senior team assistant coach Tab Ramos is taking the lead with the U-21s, Klinsmann indicated he is involved in conversations with the younger players already.
"I told them, ‘Listen, from now on going forward you’re observed by us, you’re watched by us and we’re always connected, so whenever you have a question, call, text or whatever. You’re always free to connect [to] us or contact us directly.’ I think it’s important for them to understand at that age, 19 or 20 years of age, that they start to take things in their own hands and they’re not just waiting until people tell them what they should do next.
"So I told them, ‘Listen, you’ve got to step it up if you want to be part of the national team program and the national team program is about the elite players of a country, then you’ve got to do more than anybody else in your environment.’ So they get a couple of bullet points on their way over the next few days and we coaches, we’re just excited that we have the first opportunity to work with them."