It's time to have a very difficult conversation.
Clint Dempsey has been a staple with the United States men's national team since 2004. Twelve years and 125 caps into his international team career and the country's second all-time leading goal scorer is beginning to show signs of slowing down.
He's not exactly at the stage where he's painfully hanging on too long like some aging players do. Dempsey is still a more than useful player, but the fact remains his prime years are behind him.
The 33-year-old's position within the team has always -- And I mean ALWAYS -- been a hot topic of discussion. Is he a striker? Is he a winger? Is he an attacking midfielder? The answer to all of those questions: No.
You can't put a positional label on Clint Dempsey. If you have to pinpoint one label to describe him with, it would have to simply be "Soccer Player." He doesn't fit into any structured formation. If you try to come up with one, you're just fooling yourself. Managers that have Dempsey in their team gameplan around him, they don't insert him into their gameplan.
For many years, when he was at the top of his game and banging in goals left, right, and center that was perfectly acceptable. But what happens when that productivity and dynamic threat starts to diminish? As hard as it is to admit, you're left with a player who is in the way from a tactical standpoint.
During the USA's opening match loss to Colombia in the Copa America Centenario, Dempsey had an average match. Despite having a header off of a corner kick saved off the line, a left-footed strike that went just inches wide and a free kick that was just saved, he wasn't very dangerous in front of goal. Other than a handful of moments, he seemed lost within Klinsmann's lineup. Having to play as the team's target striker is just another in the long line of roles that he doesn't fit in.
The question now becomes, do you change the formation and strategy once again to try and accommodate a player who is on the decline? Or is it time to make the difficult decision to sit him on the bench and save him for late match situations?
Most sentimental USMNT supporters, who don't want to accept that Dempsey's coming to the end of his national team career, will be begging for the former. A switch to a two-striker formation would likely have to happen in that scenario. A strategy that Klinsmann has used plenty with Dempsey and a plethora of partners with varying results.
When Dempsey isn't forced to play as a target striker he has a bad habit of drifting way too deep into the midfield to collect possession and make things happen. This, once again, ruins the formation and the gameplan as it leaves his strike partner on an island.
Dempsey has been a conundrum for the USMNT his whole career. Scoring 49 goals during his time proves that something must've worked in the past. That something was simply throwing him out on the field and letting him do his thing. As Bruce Arena famously said about him, "He tries s***." He's made a career off of that mindset and play style.
Unfortunately, Father Time leaves no man behind and Dempsey clearly isn't the player he used to be. He still has some goals in him, but is it worth consistently pigeonholing him into the lineup to hope they come?
It's likely that Klinsmann will continue with the horse that got him here. But the idea of a Clint Dempsey-less USMNT starting lineup doesn't seem so crazy anymore. It's time for the possibility to be seriously considered.