photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
The U.S. men's national team has a pair of important World Cup qualifiers with Jamaica looming, and just how big of a role Clint Dempsey will have in those matches has yet to be determined.
Dempsey has been training mostly on his own and with a reserve team for much of the past few weeks after Fulham exiled him for wanting a move to a bigger club, and although he ended his messy divorce with the Cottagers by signing with Tottenham Hotspur last Friday, his fitness levels and match sharpness remain in question.
That has left Dempsey's status for the upcoming Group A clashes with Jamaica uncertain, and U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann plans on taking every opportunity during the team's preparations in Miami to see just how much his veteran attacker will be able to give after a whirlwind summer.
"We will sit down with him and discuss his state of mind and also, obviously, we will test his fitness level right away when he comes in to see where he's at in order to help him," Klinsmann said via a conference call on Sunday. "If he's lagging behind, then we know exactly where he's at and we can help him catch up as quickly as possible and based on all that information that we gather over the next two, three days then we will see how we play him in those two very, very important World Cup qualifiers."
Klinsmann added that he was not opposed to giving Dempsey starts in either of the upcoming matches against the Reggae Boyz, but that it would all come down to how fit Dempsey is and how he looks in training in the days leading up to the first game at Independence Park in Kingston on Friday.
"He worked out with the fitness coach at Fulham on the side, they did one-on-one work, which is often more effective than team training, so we'll see right away the first couple of training sessions," said Klinsmann. "Also after testing him and depending on that data that we have, depending on what we see in training, we are absolutely open to throwing him in the water right away in Jamaica if he's really in a good physical condition and if he's feeling really fine."
Here are more USMNT notes from Sunday's conference call:
KLINSMANN ADDRESSES ABSENCES OF DONOVAN, BRADLEY, GATT
While Klinsmann may be trying to figure out just how much Dempsey will be able to contribute to the upcoming qualifiers, the head coach is also having to deal with the current injuries to key starters Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley.
Both were left off the roster due to the respective injuries that they are nursing. Donovan has a hamstring knock he has been ailing from since just before the Mexico friendly last month and Bradley sustained a thigh problem while training with AS Roma early last week, but Klinsmann sees it as par for the course.
"It's normal. I think there will never be a game where you have 100 percent on board," said Klinsmann. "It's just the way soccer works. You always have to deal with injuries, maybe some players not being in form, or whatever it is. Obviously, Michael Bradley had such a promising start with AS Roma and now this injury kind of sets him back a little bit and you want to have him with his positive energy, with his leadership that he developed over the last year. He's such an important personality in the group, but you just take it the way it is."
Another player who will miss the upcoming training camp and matches because of injury is Josh Gatt. The versatile youngster suffered a hamstring injury in Molde FK's 4-1 loss on Sunday and he had to withdraw from what would have been his first camp with the full national team.
"We had the hope to add a new element to our team with him, so we have to wait until next time I guess," said Klinsmann, who added that he did not intent to bring in a replacement for Gatt.
JOHNSON, RIMANDO TO ALTERNATE AT NO. 3 GOALKEEPER SPOT
If you were wondering why four goalkeepers were called into this camp instead of the usual three, it is because Klinsmann is alternating between two players for the No. 3 spot in order to heed a specific request from an MLS club.
"Sean Johnson will cover us up for the first game in Jamaica and then he goes back to the Chicago Fire and Nick Rimando comes in for the second one," said Klinsmann. "Nick has a game on the 6th of September with Real Salt Lake and they asked us because of the fact that he's coming in as a third goalie, meaning a back-up goalie, if it will be doable if he stays there and so that's how suddenly we have two No. 3s coming in at different times."
Klinsmann's words also point to Brad Guzan being Tim Howard's primary back-up, even in light of the fact that the 27-year-old netminder just started his first two games of the season for Aston Villa during the past week.
MORE EXPECTED FROM TORRES
The inclusion of Jose Torres in the 25-man roster was not a big surprise, but Klinsmann did reveal that he wants more out of the diminituve midfielder in the U.S. team's upcoming games.
Klinsmann touched on his desire for Torres to have more of an authoritative stamp on matches, especially considering that he is not a young player learning the ropes of the international game anymore. Torres has struggled to consistently perform well in Klinsmann's midfield, but the head coach still plans on giving Torres chances despite his lack of production in recent months.
"He's, how can I describe the right way, at a stage where people like to see him taking more responsibilities, taking more control of the game and also doing more decisive passes or plays in a game," said Klinsmann. "I think he has that quality, we believe so, he has the technique, he's quite experienced now, he's not a youngster anymore, he's not the age of Joe Corona, he knows now what this is all about.
"The message to him is very simple like we gave him already in Mexico: He needs just to do more and have more influence on the game. He didn't have that influence in the first half in Azteca Stadium and that's why I took him off. He will get always his chances and he will receive similar messages as I said now. We want to give the players always the opportunities and chances to kind of grow into that role that we kind of want to see from them and then obviously down the road when it gets closer, hopefully after everything is working out positively with the qualifying campaign, we will make the decision (of) who's going to play in the World Cup, so we want him to make more ownership of this whole thing."
KLINSMANN GIVES EXPLANATION FOR REAM'S OMISSION
Bolton Wanderers announced last week that Tim Ream was selected for the U.S. team's upcoming camp and while they were not lying, they did not accurately explain the centerback's situation.
Klinsmann clarified why Ream was not among the players chosen for the games against Jamaica despite Bolton claiming the contrary, saying the 24-year-old defender was on the larger, preliminary roster that FIFA requires national teams to have 15 days before international matches but that he was ultimately left off the squad.
"We always have players still notified (to) be on standby," said Klinsmann. "Tim is on standby but when we send out the initial invitations, they all get basically a preliminary invitation that will be then later on, which was a couple days ago, divided into a final roster and a standby list. Tim, we watch him, we observe him, we have coaches going out there and I talk to the coach, so I know where he's at so we constantly have an eye on him. But he's not on the final roster for this time."