When the United States kicked off their journey toward the 2018 World Cup in Friday's qualifier against St. Vincent & Grenadines, they did so without Clint Dempsey. It marked the first time since the 2006 World Cup cycle that a fully fit Dempsey missed a qualifier that mattered (yes, that includes matches against the likes of Cuba or Antigua and Barbuda).
Since then, Dempsey has appeared in 34 World Cup qualifiers and his 27 appearances and 13 goals over the past two cycles are the most among Americans. So -- selfish Sounders bias aside -- it was a little surprising to see Dempsey excluded from these set of games.
The decision apparently came as a bit of a relief to the USMNT's opponents, too.
T&T coach Stephen Hart on his response to the omission of Clint Dempsey: "I was overjoyed." #USAvTRI— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) November 16, 2015
It should be noted that as much as the United States' qualifying group is seen as a relative walkover -- none of their opponents are ranked in FIFA's top 50 -- Tuesday's game at Trinidad & Tobago should be their biggest test. T&T is coming off a road win against Guatemala in qualifying and has tied Mexico in each of their past two meetings, and is currently the second highest ranked team in the group (No. 54).
In other words, it's the kind of opponent against whom Dempsey probably would have been useful.
Time will tell whether or not this was a prudent decision -- and it's entirely possible the USMNT can advance without getting maximum points -- but Klinsmann's decision remains a bit of a head scratcher.