As boring as the U.S. National Team can be for long stretches, at least there's always Clint Dempsey. It's like sticking through an episode of "Saturday Night Live" for that one good sketch from the cast member you still tolerate. (Not sure that applies to 2011 SNL, since Will Forte quietly left the show.)
The man formerly known as Deuce scored another of his trademark goals (be sure to click that link, A-MAZING audio) against Canada on Tuesday night -- a late run into the box to slide tackle Jozy Altidore's cross into the net.
Come to think of it, what exactly is Dempsey's trademark?
The late run into the box to finish a movement?
The header in traffic?
The insane, half-volley?
Whatever it is, he's clearly the best American playing in Europe at the moment. The question, early into the summer transfer window, is he too good to be plying his trade at a midtable Premier League club like Fulham, where he just became the club's all-time leading scorer in the PL era. Should Dempsey force the issue and find a way onto a club that's either playing in the Champions League or harbors those ambitions? Would Cottagers new boss Martin Jol be open to selling off his best asset before the Dutchman even settles into the club?
Before delving too deep into this, consider we might tend to over-value Dempsey for the fact he's an American. As it stands, he's 28 years old hybrid player. Not exactly a striker, not exactly a winger, but valuable nonetheless. Dempsey is a pro's pro. A gamer. He hasn't played in the Champions League, but Dempsey isn't the kind of guy who gets "shook" in the big moment, and lest we forget, he did start a Europa League final two years ago.
Could Dempsey move up the ladder in England? One factor against Dempsey is that Chelsea (for now), Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal all seem to play some variation of the 4-3-3, whereas at Fulham Dempsey has played most right midfield or withdrawn behind a striker (not very often last season under Mark Hughes) in a staid 4-4-2.
Manchester United already has Antonio Valencia, who returned from injury and blocked Nani from starting in the Champions League final. Throw in the ageless Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park and it's doubtful Dempsey -- though useful -- fits into Sir Alex Ferguson's European plans. Dempsey could get games at Old Trafford, adding some depth to the team but probably not automatic first XI slots either domestically or in Europe.
Ditto for Manchester City and Chelsea, who seem stocked in places Dempsey would play. Plus, with the money those clubs have at their disposal, they're more likely to go for flashy, big-name signings than a proven player like Dempsey, who'd certainly bring something to the table for either club.
Arsenal is intriguing, especially if rumors of Samir Nasri(*) leaving the Emirates for Old Trafford persist. Could Dempsey be the ideal replacement for the creative Frenchman? Dempsey would certain be a guy Arsene Wenger could pencil into the starting XI every week in the Premier League and know what to expect. Plus, in his favor, Dempsey does have the individual panache and tactical nous favored by the Frenchman. Dempsey's natural hard-nosed instincts would click, you'd think, alongside Jack Wilshere -- the future of the North London club at the moment.
(*) Can Arsenal win without Nasri? Sure. It's more an indictment on the direction of the club that a young playmaker like him thinks in order to win trophies he has to go somewhere else.
The next two clubs in England -- Liverpool and Tottenham -- don't look like destinations either. Liverpool is on a spending spree, and Dempsey isn't in the picture. Spurs, meanwhile, have Aaron Lennon on the right plus a slew of players on the roster similar to the Texan, namely Rafael van dar Vaart. Plus Tottenham is stuck in the Europa League, though Dempsey would be ideal to help Spurs' fight wars on two fronts.
Moving outside of England would be a major risk for Dempsey, since he's established and settled with the Premier League style of play. A move to France's Ligue 1 would be a step back in his career. Spain seems unlikely, too, since Valencia and Villareal are playing third and fourth fiddle to La Liga's big two, plus they don't have money to spend.
From the Bundesliga, champions Borussia Dortmund would be an awesome place to place, if only for the 80,000 fans who attend every home game. Soccer-wise, the club is set up with its roster, building from within. Dempsey, as talented as he is, could upset the apple cart. Bayer Leverkausen is in the Champions League, but its manager has already gone to Bayern Munich and the roster might be dissembled.
Bayern would be a nice spot for Dempsey, but the Bavarians need defenders -- not tricky wingers.
That leaves Italy.
Yes, that Italy.
Throw out AC Milan, which has plenty of attackers at it's ready. Same with Udinese, which is selling, not buying.
Napoli would be a very interesting spot for Dempsey, since many think Marek Hamsik is overrated. Dempsey could easily slot in to form a power trio with Edison Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi. It's something to consider. Napoli were one of the most engaging teams in all of Europe during 2010-11. Adding the spark and grit of Dempsey would help, though the weekly play in Serie A might not be on par with what he's seeing with Fulham in England.
Same with Inter Milan, depending on the summer plans of Massimo Moratti. Inter's squad depth isn't what it was at the height of Jose Mourinho's run. If the club decides to cash-in on Wesley Snjieder, Inter is going to need a link to the Samuel Eto'o line. Plus, Dempsey would look uber-badass in blue-and-black stripes.
Hey, if you're Dempsey, you have to like the options.
And it's not like sticking around Craven Cottage is chopped liver, either.
Win Cures All Ills?:
It seems the debacle vs. Spain is but a distant memory after the U.S. took care of business vs. Canada. Jozy Altidore is back to being the most exciting prospect in American soccer history. Michael Bradley is the midfield general the U.S. has lacked since Claudio Reyna. Yada, yada yada.
Realistically, the only way that the loss to Spain could have been compounded was with a loss or a listless draw with Canada on a makeshift field at Ford Field. So in that sense, perhaps Sunil Gulati ought to send a fruit basket or at least a muffin tray to our friends from the Great White North. What is it about Canadians, quiet, dignified values and sub-mediocre soccer? (Hey, relax, Canucks. My grandfather was born in Ottawa.)
Panama (Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox Soccer) might be a step up from Canada from an organizational standpoint. Chances are, too, Panama isn't going to gift the U.S. an early goal on a goalkeeping gaffe. The U.S. is going to have to work the ball around to find openings against a team that would be ecstatic with a draw.
The U.S. isn't as abject as it was against Spain, but we won't know how strong the current incarnation is until the knockout stages.
Obviously the Mexican National Team, El Tri as it were, has never watched any of the Public Safety Announcements from Pierre on Channel Cinco. If they had, they'd have known you have to keep meat ice cold if you're going to eat it later.
Typical Mexico, right? Five players failed a dope test on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., including pitchman extraordinaire: goalkeeper Guille Ochoa. Funny, of course, the excuse was to blame tainted chicken. Popeyes Chicken might be pretty rank, but it's doubtful it'll cause you to fail a drug test, am I right people of the South?
This isn't the first time Mexico soccer team has been in the news for failed drug tests. Run a Google search for "Mexico Soccer Dope Ban" and you get more results than your eyes can read. Don't forget, either, Mexico was banned from the 1990 World Cup for fielding overage players in a youth tournament.
As down as I am personally on the USSF, at least Gulati and the boys play by the rules, at least the rules that keep the players on the field.
Mexico did look great, romping in the second half vs. Cuba Thursday night in Bank of America Stadium, winning 5-0. It helped that Cuba's defense did its best traffic cone impersonation. Chicharito didn't score, but he missed a hat trick by about seven combined inches, while Gio Dos Santos slipped into the starting lineup and scored twice.
That said, Cuba did have some chances as backup keeper Alfredo Talavera looked quite shaky and unsure. Throw in the older legs of Rafa Marquez and El Tri might not be as rock-solid as it had hoped in the back.
One thing to note, Mexico players go out there with smiles on their face as if entertaining their adoring public -- even in America -- is their No. 1 goal ahead of the actual in-game results. Perhaps this level of hubris will come back to bite them down the road, as well as, the lack of depth due to the five suspended players.
Odds and Ends:
* Has the U.S. qualified for the Gold Cup knockout rounds already? Seems that way. Doesn't matter much where the U.S. even finishes in the group, considering there's no way for the U.S. to play Mexico until the final because of the bracket. At worst, the U.S. gets stuck playing Honduras earlier than expected. Jamaica might be dangerous because of its team speed, but doubt they have the defending to keep the U.S. off the scoreboard.
The shame of the Gold Cup is it's so set up to keep the U.S. and Mexico apart until the final in the knockout bracket. Obviously that's a good thing, but it's too bad the U.S. might never get a chance to play Costa Rica, who'd be an ideal test in the semifinals instead of another potentially god-awful match with Guatemala.
* Does the Gold Cup really need 13 different venues to stage the tournament? Seems excessive, even for the corrupt stuffed-shirts at CONCACAF headquarters.
* Are the U.S. on a short list of International teams where a goalie can single-handily win games for them? Imagine the state of this without Tim Howard standing on his head game-in, game-out.
* Costa Rican forward Bryan Ruiz's jersey simply reads Bryan. Makes me laugh, for some reason.
* The sight of Ricardo LaVolpe on the touchline, never, EVER gets old. Get the man a Dos Equis.
* Remember Cobi Jones' late equalizer during 2006 World Cup qualification against Panama on a water-logged field. Too bad the clip isn't on YouTube.
* Along those lines, anyone remember the guy on Panama from around that time with the bleached blond hair? He was always a torn in the Americans side. (Granted, Eddie Johnson did score a hat trick vs. Panama back in 2004 at RFK.)
* For those that care, this site is now viewable in a more tolerable, mobile form for your iPhones and other hi-tech gizmos.
Figure Bob Bradley sticks with the Canada lineup, barring late fitness tests. Expect a more experimental team vs. Guadeloupe next week. Guessing Oguchi Onyewu gets a run out to see if he merits first XI inclusion later down the road. At 29 Clarence Goodson isn't quite a future building block, is he?
DEF -- Cherundolo -- Ream -- Onyewu -- Bocanegra
MID -- Dempsey -- Jones -- Bradley -- Donovan
FOR -- Altidore -- Aguedelo