Now on to the post...
I confess that I have always loved Clint Dempsey. A lot of USMNT fans give him a hard time for being kind of a dick, for being aloof at times, for seeming like he could give a shit that the team isn't dominating the world like we all want, and even expect them to at this point. Yet, where many see an arrogant player, I see one of the few hopes for US success. A player who plays with a flare rarely seen clad in red, white and blue on the pitch.
As I look forward to tomorrow's semifinal - a game in which the US looks to exact revenge for a tough 2-1 defeat against Panama in the group stage [Ed Note: Thanks to Dan for pointing out my error with the previous game's score in the comments. My apologies. Just the kind of shoddy reporting you can all look forward to from The Barrister.]. - my thoughts are on Clint, a player upon whom I peg much of my hope for the team's success in the Gold Cup and leadup to the next World Cup. As I often do when trying to focus my theme for a post, I drew inspiration from the web today - this time it was a Deadspin post from the weekend. I haven't read Deadspin since their stellar coverage of the Brett Favre A-cock-alypse, so was happy to find an analysis of Dempsey that I happen to agree with: "What a paradox we have in Clint Dempsey. His composure provides results. Those results give him confidence. That confidence makes him appear casual. And in the end, the biggest criticism we can muster is that Dempsey makes the game look easy, all the while his teammates make soccer look so hard."
Seriously, check out that post if you need to understand why Dempsey is our key to success in the men's game. The Yachtsman and I have often griped about the state of the American game - downhill soccer that lacks flare and creativity, driven only by the singular desire to progress the ball forward, even where the situation demands patience and thoughtfulness in a player's touch. Indeed, America's success - such as it is - has been the result of jamming the ball down the opponent's throat. Look at last year's World Cup goals: Donovan's winner to take us into the knockout stage? Scored off a rebound as the team streaked down the field like a team coached by Gordan Bombay. Or even Donovan's first goal in the Slovenia game. Great shot, sure, but a great example of shoving it down the other team's throat with as much will and force as you can muster. And don't even get me started on the garbage luck we had to count on to get the equalizer against England.
I bring these examples up not to denigrate the US team, but only to point out that, to their credit, the team has willed themselves to victory. But, when you take away that will to win - or when you at least recognize that the team's desire and heart can be easily matched in the passion of international play - we're left with a team that is worlds behind in terms of skill and natural talent. And, this is where a guy like Dempsey can change things - especially when he combines those traditional elements of the USMNT - the gritty determination of a perennial underdog - with the natural talent and skill of a kid who learned the game growing up in Nacogdoches, TX, outside of the traditional US youth soccer system, and with the influence of the Mexican game that had luckily worked its way into the community.
And for tomorrow's game, as the US looks to get one back from the Panama team that so thoroughly embarassed them a couple weekends ago, the US team needs a few things to change. I must say that it's been bizarre to watch an international tournament in which the team is favored to win it all, and maybe its that position - the lack of underdog status - that has had the team looking so befuddled over the past four games. Maybe they need to pack themselves into a corner to succeed, to kick it into that next gear where a nation's soccer hopes can be fulfilled. Either way, for this tournament to be what fans had dreamed it would be, the US not only has to win, but has to do so while showing itself to be the skilled and talented squad people keep saying it is.
Freely admitting that this post was more style over substance, lacking in analysis as I rush off to do a triple-header of depositions this morning, it figures that I'd resort to some video imagery to take us out. Thus, I give you Panama...with puppets. America - FUCK YEAH!