PHILADELPHIA — When Clint Dempsey returned to the US national team in March after a nine-month absence from international play due to an irregular heartbeat, head coach Bruce Arena indicated the Seattle Sounders star may be used more off the bench than he had been in the past.
But now that Dempsey has delivered some big performances both for the USMNT and the Sounders, has Arena perhaps changed his tune?
And should fans expect to see Dempsey starting when the US faces El Salvador in the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday (9 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN; TSN2, RDS2) at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field?
“We’ll see,” Arena said during a press conference Tuesday evening. “He’ll demonstrate that when he has his opportunities and plays. He’ll demonstrate if he’s a 90-minute player on a full-time basis or plays a different role. We will see that clearly over 2017 and that will give us some good indications as we head into 2018.”
Even if he might not be an automatic starter or 90-minute player anymore, Dempsey remains an important figure with the national team — one reason why he was called in for the knockout rounds along with fellow longtime USMNT vets Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.
Earlier in the day, before a training session at Penn, Altidore discussed his excitement about getting another chance to play with Dempsey, as he has for much of the past decade. And Arena, too, indicated the two may be paired together in the attack. Dempsey sits one goal away from tying the program's all-time scoring mark at 57, a record currently held by Landon Donovan.
“They understand each other,” the USMNT coach said of Altidore and Dempsey. “I think their skills complement each other. Their mentality complements each other. They’re two very accomplished players and the numbers show that at both the club and international level.”
Dempsey and Altidore, with 93 international goals between them, bring an infusion of scoring punch to the team. Their additions came at the expense of Dom Dwyer, who scored a goal in each of his first two USMNT caps before being one of the six players sent home following the group stage.
Why did Arena decide to cut the Sporting Kansas City striker loose?
“Because I brought in two attacking players in Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey,” the US coach explained succinctly. “And I had to make a decision of sending one of two players back. It was my decision based on the players coming in and what I thought our needs were.”
No matter what strikers end up seeing the field in Philly, the US may need as many goals as they can get against an El Salvador side that Arena believes has some dangerous attacking players of their own.
“They’ve impressed me in the tournament,” Arena said. “We’re gonna have to keep an eye on them. They move the ball, they keep it on the ground. They’re one of the better Salvadoran teams I’ve seen in a number of years.”