By FRANCO PANIZO
HARRISON, N.J. — The U.S. men's national team is still a work in progress under new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. That much was made obvious during the last two friendlies against Honduras and Ecuador.
What may have been just as obvious is how well Clint Dempsey is adapting to a new role in the more attack-oriented system Klinsmann is implementing, even if things aren't perfect yet.
Dempsey was one of the bright spots in both October friendlies, where he was paired up top with a striker but given the responsibilities to create chances. Against Honduras in Miami Gardens, Fla., Dempsey proved to be a handful with his creativity off the dribble, and he scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 win. He also scored what looked to be a clean second goal, but it was called back for a foul. His creativity was evident when the Americans faced Ecuador at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday night, though his contributions were limited in the second half.
"Last game, I felt good. This game, especially in the first half, I had a lot of fun," said Dempsey, who along with Tim Howard and Kyle Becerkman played every minute in the last two friendlies. "Second half, a little bit frustrated. I would like to impact the game a little bit more, get on the ball, found it a little more difficult.
"But still saying that, I got myself in a good position towards the end of the game, but the guy made a good sliding tackle, which caused the ball to go out for a corner. I'm happy with the way I'm playing, happy with the way the team's playing, we're just frustrated we didn't get the result."
Failing to get a result has been common in Klinsmann's first five games in charge, with the Americans dropping three of them, all by the score of 1-0.
Scoring goals has been one of the main reasons for that, the U.S. team having found the back of the net just twice through the first 450 minutes under Klinsmann.
With Dempsey leading the attack against Ecuador as a creator in the No. 10 role, the Americans appeared like they were ready to have their first multi-goal game. But, as has been the case, shots couldn't be converted into goals.
"I thought first half we played very well. I thought we caused them a lot of problems," said Dempsey. "I thought we got into a lot of good positions, created a lot of good chances, we just couldn't put it into the back of the net.
Things got worse in the second half for the United States, as the Ecuadorians won more possession and tightened up defensively. The Americans also made four substitutions at halftime, which were followed by two more as the game wore on.
Those two factors caused the Americans problems, as they were unable to create chances as easily as they did in the opening 45 minutes.
"I think they did a better job of packing it in, there weren't as many holes," said Dempsey. "Also, I think we lost a little bit of our rhythm after making so many changes, but you've got to do that to figure out what your best Xi is going to be."
Going forward, Dempsey is undoubtedly in that best XI . His creativity, technique and ability to make something out of nothing make him a valuable asset to a U.S. team that doesn't have many seasoned quality options at its disposal.
"I'm encouraged to go express myself and get forward and try to create chances and try to have the team create goals," Dempsey said.
Dempsey's contributions on Tuesday were limited in the second half, and he admits he was frustrated by his inability to make more of an impact in the final 45 minutes.
But while Dempsey continues to adjust to his new role, teammates on the U.S. team know that even in the moments when he's not as active, Dempsey can provide a moment of magic, just as he did when he scored the winner against Honduras on Saturday night (he also had a second goal questionably called off).
"When you look at our team, the last four, five, six years, Clint has played a huge role and Clint has come through for us on a lot of big days," said Michael Bradley. "Clint is a guy that we know is going to be ready to give everything he has every time he steps on the field."