UPDATE: Bobby Wood has been ruled out and removed from the roster for the qualifiers. Most seem to think this opens the door for Dempsey to start at least one of the games.
Clint Dempsey will be joining the United States for a pair of crucial World Cup qualifiers. But head coach Bruce Arena has indicated that he plans to use Dempsey in a reserve role, at least for the foreseeable future.
The former USMNT captain — and the country’s second-leading all time scorer — said he was fine with that, as he admits he’s still getting back to full fitness following a six-month hiatus due to heart health issues.
“Do I think I’m able to go out there and do 90 minutes at world cup qualifiers?,” he asked rhetorically following Friday’s training session. “I don’t know if I’m there yet. I’m not at 100 percent yet, but I’m getting close. But every 90 minutes i get under my belt here, I’m feeling more comfortable.”
Whether he’s OK with it or not, seeing Dempsey in a reserve role would be an odd sight. Since he cemented his spot in the team following the 2006 World Cup, Dempsey’s only come off the bench five times in 107 appearances. The last time it happened was in the 2015 Gold Cup — in an effectively meaningless group stage game and in the third-place game — and you have to go back to a 2012 friendly to find the next most recent example.
Considering the stakes — anything less than four points will leave the United States in a precarious position — Dempsey seems to be willing to do whatever is needed.
“I’m a competitor so if i’m back in games and feel I can make a difference, it’s kinda do or die in the World Cup qualifying situation that we’re in, kinda must-win games,” he said. “I’m happy to be part of that because of I’ve been in those games before.”