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Clint Dempsey unlikely to play in upcoming World Cup qualifiers

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Bruce Arena indicates he’s not quite ready to call in Dempsey.

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Ecuador  at USA Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Although Clint Dempsey’s fitness may be a bit ahead of schedule, it doesn’t appear as though he’ll be returning the United States national team fold immediately. While leaving himself a little wiggle room, head coach Bruce Arena effectively confirmed statements he made in January that he won’t be calling in Dempsey for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

“Two players, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, may not be available,” Arena said. “They've all been good players for the U.S. team. We'd like to have them all. The reality of the situation is that that's not likely.”

As useful as a fully fit Dempsey may be to the USMNT’s currently tenuous World Cup hopes, this is surely a good thing from a fitness perspective. Dempsey will be coming off his first three competitive matches in seven months when the USA hosts Honduras on March 24 and visit Panama on March 28. Although the Sounders will be playing a friendly against Club Necaxa on March 25, it will be far easier to control his minutes in that kind of game than in the heat of a must-win qualifier.

If all goes well, though, Dempsey should be in position to rejoin the USMNT by the next round of qualifiers on June 8 (vs. Trinidad and Tobago) and June 11 (at Mexico). In addition to trying to put himself in position to make a fourth World Cup, Dempsey will also resume his chase of Landon Donovan for the all-time goals record. Dempsey is currently five behind Donovan.