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Clint Dempsey Played Like a Warrior Against Colombia

The 33-year-old striker rose to the challenge Friday night against Colombia, creating the Americans' only meaningful scoring chances in the Copa America Centenario opener.
BY John Godfrey Posted
June 05, 2016
5:45 PM

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—A day before the United States lost to Colombia in the opening match of the 2016 Copa America Centenario, Jurgen Klinsmann spoke about the "wonderful opportunity" the tournament presented. He called the 16-team competition a benchmark for the program and pointed out that his players will get a clear sense of how they match up against some of the best players in the world.

"That's a big stage for Michael Bradley," Klinsmann said. "That's a big stage for Clint Dempsey. That's a big stage for Jermaine Jones. That's what they want to play. Now they have the opportunity so go out there and play that stage."

Bradley and Jones did not perform particularly well on Friday night, turning the ball over repeatedly and struggling against the talented Colombians. Bobby Wood did not get involved in the contest. Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic came in as second-half subs but could not influence the match. Alejandro Bedoya apparently wasn't pleased with his showing, as he slipped past reporters without facing questions.

If there is one player who can hold his head high in the wake of Friday's loss, it's Clint Dempsey. 

"Clint was a warrior out there," Klinsmann said after the game. "He gave everything he had. He was really fighting and fighting positively."

Geoff Cameron agreed.

"Clint’s Clint. I love playing with him," Cameron said. "He’s great on the ball, he creates a lot of things—things a lot of people don’t really notice. And for me, whenever I have the ball I try to get him on the ball as soon as possible because he creates space and brings guys in and allows other guys to get involved in the game.

"He was fantastic today and worked hard and threw his body on the line."

Neither American fullback managed to push forward and threaten from the flanks. The three midfielders failed to create noteworthy opportunities. Gyasi Zardes worked hard but his first touch let him down. Which means the U.S. attack consisted of one man: Clint Dempsey.

He drew fouls. He earned dangerous spot kicks. He tried an audacious bicycle kick. If the U.S. offense was involved, so was Dempsey.

In the 37th minute the Seattle Sounders striker generated the Americans' best opportunity from the run of play, a left-footed blast from 25 yards out that froze Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but flew a foot or so wide. It was a laser of a strike, and it would have notched the game at one if it was on frame. But it wasn't.

In the 60th minute, Dempsey broke free from his marker on a Bradley corner kick and nodded the ball toward goal. His header was on target, low and perfectly placed, but Colombia defender Sebastian Perez slid to save the shot, keeping Colombia's lead at two.

Four minutes later, Dempsey unleashed a brilliant free kick from just outside the penalty area. It swerved around the Colombian wall and veered toward the upper corner of the goal, but Ospina lurched to his left, extended his arms, and parried the shot away.

If not for Dempsey's efforts, Ospina could have plopped down in an Adirondack chair, cracked open a can of Aguila beer, and watched the game unfold.

And if another Yank brought delivered the same level of grit, determination, and skill as Dempsey, the final scoreline might have looked different.

The 33-year-old Texan met with reporters after the match, sporting a shiner and stitches—a testament to the physical battles he endured as he tried to create space and chances. He wasn't about to dwell on the near-misses—he was looking forward to Tuesday's must-win match against Costa Rica. 

"We want to take more chances but it was one of those games where they kind of sat back once they had the two-nil lead," Dempsey said. "It’s difficult to break teams down like that. That penalty changed the game.

"If you want to keep going in the tournament, you’ve got to win."

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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