If you've been living under a rock for the last few days you may have missed Clint Dempsey's shenanigans in the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday. The United States captain lost his cool and took it out on a referee's notebook. Because of his actions he's facing the possibility of a three month ban. His situation is very much up in the air at the moment. If Dempsey is unavailable for the Gold Cup, the friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands gave us a glimpse of what we can expect the USMNT to look like without Deuce.
Jurgen Klinsmann has been experimenting with two main setups in recent games. One is a 4-3-3 variant that he deployed against the Netherlands. Aron Johannsson served as the target striker with Gyasi Zardes and Fabian Johnson flanking him on the wing. Michael Bradley's freedom to roam in a more natural box-to-box role paid huge dividends as he was able get into great attacking positions and play a vital role in setting up teammates for chances.
This formation is really only an option without Dempsey available. He's unable to play as a winger due to his increasing age, playing him as the target striker pushes Jozy Altidore out of the lineup, and he's ineffective in Bradley's attacking midfield role.
The other option is the 4-4-2 diamond that was used against Germany and other games in recent history. This formation pushes Bradley into the number 10 role and utilizes two strikers, one of which is usually occupied by Dempsey. Without him as an option at striker we could see several other players get a chance.
We learned against Germany and the Netherlands that we have some very capable back-up options at the striker position. Johannsson is the obvious choice to replace Dempsey as a goalscoring threat. The AZ Alkmaar forward has piled up the league goals over the last few seasons, and this could be his first chance at extensive playing time for the USMNT.
Zardes had a nice showing against the Netherlands, even scoring his first international goal. He's another capable option if Klinsmann opts to go with a two striker setup.
If we're judging candidates on talent alone, then Juan Agudelo has to be to be considered. He didn't have the greatest 45 minutes against Germany, but he's proved in the past that he's capable of displaying his exceptional technical ability for the national team.
Then there's the youngster Jordan Morris. A dynamic attacking force with a great mix of pace and technical ability. The Stanford junior is still a long shot to make the Gold Cup roster. But, if Dempsey is forced to sit out any amount of games, Morris could sneak his way onto the roster and continue his meteoric rise of 2015.
Losing Dempsey would be a hindrance for the USMNT, there's no denying that. Thankfully, attacking options have emerged that would make his absence a flesh wound and not a death blow. Klinsmann would have the freedom to utilize whichever formation he pleases without having to fit Dempsey into a certain role. Lets hope cooler heads prevail and a reasonable solution to this saga is found, but if not, the Gold Cup is still attainable for the USA without their captain.