Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey went on Colin Cowherd’s new Fox Sports show "The Herd" on Thursday to talk about the Copa America, USMNT, and the 2018 World Cup. Dempsey opens up a little more than usual, and he gets into the nuts and bolts of putting together a winning national team. Cowherd isn’t usually known for his soccer coverage, but he gets some good stuff from Dempsey in this interview. Probably the most interesting to Sounders and USMNT fans is what he says regarding playing in the 2018 World Cup.
Cowherd kicks off the interview asking Dempsey for a post-mortem of sorts regarding the Copa America Centenario and how he rates the USA’s tournament. "It’s kind of mixed emotions: you’re happy you got the semifinal, you want to find yourself in a final and trying to play for silverware." Dempsey seems satisfied that the USA was in the third place match, but says that coming up short was tough because the team feels like they "should have gotten third place from the tournament at the end of the day."
Regarding whether or not the team that Jurgen Klinsmann took to the Copa was correct or not, Dempsey said that even though he’s played in 3 World Cups, it’s tough to judge a single USA squad over others. "I think it is a group that has a lot of potential," he said, "it’s exciting for the future and it’s about making sure you qualify for the World Cup and putting yourself in the position to show that you are that good of a team." He recalled the 2009 Confederations Cup as one of the best US teams he played with; that team shocked Spain 2-0 in the semi-final and lost a close match to Brazil in the final. Dempsey believes that the US will have to work for their next World Cup, no matter which players take the field.
Cowherd echoed a particularly popular opinion regarding Klinsmann’s team selection in the Copa, asking Dempsey if he thought the coach balanced out enough young talent with veterans during the tournament. Dempsey said that these have to be some of the most difficult decisions for coaches, saying that "I don’t know if I could do it. I wouldn’t want to deal with all the stress of it, because you’re not out there playing, you can’t control it as much but you still have a say in the team you put out there." Having players like himself is important, Dempsey noted, but "you still gotta give those kids the opportunity to sink or swim, because I had that opportunity as well." Dempsey seems high on the future prospects of US Soccer, and stressed that "we’ve gotta keep developing that."
Even though Cowherd expressed his being fine with the USA recruiting foreign-born players and the like, he stoked the mildly xenophobic fire of the question regarding why there aren’t enough good American-born players. To Dempsey, it’s down to a few factors: "It’s about growing that talent, finding the right academies, developing that style that you want to play in the States."
One of the biggest controversies in American soccer is the unfortunate ubiquity of "pay to play" leagues for kids and teens that eliminate those unable to afford it. Having grown up in semi-rural Nacogdoches, Texas, Dempsey says that he was very fortunate to have found a club team that gave him a scholarship, as he may not have had the opportunity otherwise. A lot of kids aren’t so lucky, as there are far fewer chances for those that don’t play on high profile club teams: "If you’re growing up in a small town, really all you have is the recreational league that you can play in, the high school team you can hopefully play for, and then hope that someone can see you." He brought up former USMNT midfielder Jose Torres, who came from a similar small town in Texas and had to go to Mexico to get noticed. "So there are some kids from the States going to Mexico and playing there instead of in the league here, because sometimes that’s an easier way."
Dempsey’s long, impressive career has pitted him against some of the best players in history. One of those occasions, of course, was the Copa semifinal against Argentina in which Messi and his cohorts thoroughly embarrassed Dempsey and the USMNT. Along with Messi, Dempsey cites Cristiano Ronaldo, Zidane, and [Brazilian] Ronaldo as the best he’s ever played against. Dempsey says that what makes these guys and more so great is that "they create time and space on the ball for themselves with little movements, being able to have vision, a good first touch, and good decision-making by being so dynamic." The entire team must be disciplined enough to mark every player on the team, according to Dempsey, so that an individual can focus on marking the star player and limit his passing options. "To beat teams and players like that, you have to be at your best, you have to be pressing all their players, you have to be in their face. At the same time, you have to have possession to and cause them to get tired." Perhaps the USA’s big problem against Argentina was that they allowed far too much possession; according to Dempsey, in these situations "you never really have a chance."
Perhaps the juiciest tidbit and only true news tidbit from this interview came at the end, when Cowherd asked Dempsey if he would consider playing for the USA in the 2018 World Cup in a diminished, supersub-type role. Dempsey will be 35 when the tournament rolls around, and it seems like he has a pretty realistic view of where he’ll be at that point. "That does appeal to me that I could come into a game and change it, I wouldn’t necessarily say I wouldn’t do this or do that, but I would be open to it." He says that it’s an honor to play for his country no matter what, and after 130 caps and 3 World Cup appearances, he said "it would be nice to say I was in 4. Not a lot of people can say that."