For most of this summer, Clint Dempsey's ambitions to move onto a club bigger than Fulham were made widely known, albeit respectfully. He didn't demand a transfer, but Martin Jol and the Fulham board weren't in the dark about his desires to move on. In August, he stopped training with Fulham's first team. Depending on who you believe, he either refused to suit up for the Cottagers or was exiled.
In any event, it became painfully obvious that it was best for both Fulham and Dempsey for him to move on, and he was lucky to find a satisfactory suitor in Tottenham Hotspur after Liverpool's deal with Fulham broke down. He'll be training with a professional side and making a Premier League 18-man squad shortly, and he'll have the opportunity to win a starting place at White Hart Lane.
All of this is excellent news for Dempsey's national team career and the United States men going forward, but it's not terribly relevant to the team's next two qualifying matches. It's almost unfathomable that Dempsey might be at anything approaching his best right now, having not played in a competitive match since June and having not trained with a full professional team over the last couple of weeks. He's going to be a bit rusty against Jamaica, at least in Kingston on Friday.
In an ideal world, Dempsey would start the match on the bench, but this is not an ideal world. Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley are both out injured. Even though neither player operates in the same position as Dempsey when all of them are healthy, the potential fill-in players for all three are the same players.
The away match against Jamaica is also the toughest game that the United States will face in this stage of World Cup qualifying. They should be able to reach the hexagonal qualifying round even if they lose on Friday, but denying Jamaica three points in Kingston would put the team into a low-pressure situation heading into Tuesday's match in Columbus, and subsequently their last two matches if they're able to win their home match against Jamaica.
Jurgen Klinsmann has a dilemma, and even though he will have the more talented of the two sides on Friday no matter who he puts on the pitch, none of his starting midfield options are very appealing. Dempsey hasn't played competitive football all summer, Danny Williams isn't a starter for Hoffenheim, Jose Torres has been shocking in recent national team performances and both Graham Zusi and Joe Corona have minimal experience in a national team shirt. Brek Shea could get a start after finding his form again for FC Dallas and setting up the winning goal at the Azteca against Mexico last month, but he hasn't put together a complete performance for the national team in over a year.
Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones offer Klinsmann a decent pivot option, but just about every option for constructing the attacking band of three in front of them has serious flaws, including Dempsey. He's going to play a part in the game at some point, whether that be as a starter or off the bench, and it would be surprising if he looked like himself from the beginning of his time on the pitch.
If he does start, it's anyone's guess where he plays, since it will be largely dependent on Klinsmann's evaluation of other players. Dempsey is heralded for his finishing and work rate, and his first touch is better than any other American, but his real value to the national team (especially when Donovan is out injured) is his versatility. Dempsey can play on the left, the right, as an attacking central midfielder or as a withdrawn striker. Where he plays on Friday will probably be determined by whether or not Klinsmann is deterred by Williams' current position with Hoffenheim, or if he has more faith in Zusi or Corona.
Between this positional question and Dempsey's lack of recent playing time at any level, fans shouldn't expect too much from him in the first qualifier of this round. Generally, when one of Donovan or Dempsey misses a national team match due to injury, the other is expected to carry the load. In this instance, the creative and scoring burden will have to be picked up by someone else, or by the team as a whole.
That is, unless Dempsey goes 90 minutes and scores a goal. Would you put it past him?