June 15, 2016
Dempsey defies father time, but eventually that will catch up to him; who will be his successor?
By Michael Lewis
Clint Dempsey has been a warrior for the USMNT for years with his gutsy play and ability to fill the net.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Clint Dempsey came through not once, but twice for the United States in the group stage of Copa America Centenario.
And the sun also rises.
Dempsey has been rising to the occasion and living up to his reputation, establishing himself as a legend and a future National Soccer Hall of Fame player for years.
Those are the key words -- for years.
Dempsey recently turned 33, which means he isn't getting any younger as a striker and except for a handful of exceptions, strikers over the age of 30 are old at the international level.
When the 2018 World Cup in Russia rolls around, Dempsey will be 35, which will be considered ancient for someone who excels at his particular position.
But like I said, there are exceptions. He might not be able to fill the net for the Seattle Sounders or the red, white and blue with the same frequency, but he finds a way when his team needs a lift or a goal.
Cases in point:
Converting a penalty kick for the team's vital opening goal in its 4-0 rout of Costa Rica last week -- he helped create two later goals -- and connecting for the lone score of the USA's 1-0 win over Paraguay that clinched a quarterfinal berth.
So who knows? Perhaps Dempsey can defy father time and continue to produce for the Americans when he is needed most. Deuce is one tough dude, doing whatever it takes to win and find the back of the net.
But he is not going to last forever. No one does, not even the great Pele.
So the scary problem is that no true successor has been established on the USA side
Sure, there's Jozy Altidore, who has acquitted himself well internationally, but he has been, well, hamstrung by hamstring injuries recently, not exactly making him a reliable choice to perform at a high level, let alone be fit for vital matches. World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region resumes in September, by the way.
OK, how about the younger players?
Bobby Wood and Gysai Zardes have shown promise. Yes, Wood found the net in Costa Rica win and Zardes has shown some flashes of brilliance or goodness. But that is one game. They have to do it consistently for them to be considered the go-to guy up front.
Every few years there is a changing of the guard for any national team. It is part of international soccer's circle of life.
The Americans could wind up losing two vital goal-scorers over a short period of time, with Landon Donovan (U.S. men's record 57 goals) calling it quits after his World Cup snub in 2014 and with Dempsey (second at 51), if he ever, heaven forbid for the national team, slows down or loses his scoring touch.
Just who will succeed Dempsey and Donovan, it remains to be seen.
Perhaps Altidore will overcome his injury problems.
Maybe Wood or Zyasi will mature into their roles.
Or perhaps Christian Pulisic will blossom much sooner than later, although that probably would be expecting too much out of a 17-year-old.
Right now, let's sit back and enjoy what a 33-year-old is accomplishing and what he might achieve for the rest of the tournament.