As Clint Dempsey prepares for induction into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame on Saturday, the moment is also serving as a reminder that the U.S. men’s national team has yet to replace him with another reliable goal scorer.
Now five years removed from his national team career, which finished with Dempsey tying Landon Donovan for most career USMNT goals with 57, Dempsey has transitioned from player to television analyst and what he has seen during his time as an analyst is a USMNT sorely lacking is a reliable striker.
“We’re missing a No. 9,” Dempsey told reporters on Monday in a conference call ahead of his Hall of Fame induction. “I think someone needs to kind of solidify that role and be the main guy. For example, if you’re looking at Canada with [Jonathan] David and Cyle Larin, they’re both been doing a great job…if one is out, another one steps in and they don’t really miss a beat.”
The USMNT qualified for the 2022 World Cup despite not having a dependable presence at striker throughout the Octagonal Round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying. Ricardo Pepi enjoyed a strong start to the Octagonal but quickly cooled off heading into 2022, and injuries also played a part in limiting Berhalter’s options at the position, with Jesus Ferreira emerging late in the cycle as a real contender for the role despite not being a prototypical striker.
Dempsey is no stranger to being thrust into the striker role despite it not being his most natural role. His final World Cup appearance, in 2014, featured a run at striker after injuries to Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson forced Jurgen Klinsmann to push Dempsey up top rather than in the playmaking role he was expected to fill in Brazil.
The striker position isn’t the only one on the USMNT that Dempsey has his concerns about heading into the World Cup. Goalkeeper is expected to be a battle between current first-choice option Zack Steffen and Matt Turner, but as things stand, Steffen will be Manchester City’s backup once again next season unless he makes a move and Turner is set to join Arsenal in the summer, where he is expected to serve as a backup.
“Whoever is going to win that (goalkeeper) spot is whoever is going to be playing more consistently,” Dempsey said. “If you’re not playing consistently for your club that you’re on, then you need to go on loan and get those minutes. Because it’s all about being sharp when that time comes. So it will be interesting to see what happens for Turner and Steffen in July and August, what decisions are made there.
“Not only the goalies, but I think all the field players as well, they need to be playing for their club teams come August and trying to get on a good run of form,” Dempsey said. “That’s what you’re going to need to go far in that tournament and right now we’ve had the injury bug bite us a bit with guys trying to get back to full fitness.”
Dempsey will return to the World Cup as an analyst, having recently been unveiled as part of the Fox Sports coverage team for the tournament in Qatar. The USMNT will open against Iran before facing highly-rated England, who Dempsey knows well, having played in the Premier League for six seasons and having scored against England in a 1-1 draw at the 2010 World Cup.
“It will be interesting to see who makes it in the group, I will definitely be rooting for them though all the way,” Dempsey said. “If you look at history, even though England is a really strong team and will likely be picked to go far in the competition, we’ve fared pretty well against them in that competition. Hopefully history will be on our sides and they can just get healthy for it.”