[USA] The final matches for players summoned to the pre-World Cup U.S. training camp start on Wednesday with the most prestigious. Fulham coach Roy Hodgson danced around the topic of whether English striker Bobby Zamora, who didn't participate in the team’s final training session prior to the Europa League final against Spanish club Atletico Madrid, would be ready to start the match. Zamora's absence might affect the status of Clint Dempsey, or it might not.
The American scored the vital fourth goal in Fulham’s spectacular 4-1 defeat of Juventus in the round of 16 two months ago off the bench, and is candidate to start in midfield, though Hodgson has plenty of experience available in Damien Duff, Dickson Etuhu, Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera. The coach has also used Dempsey in more of a central role, though former Revs assistant coach Paul Mariner believes his best spot is out wide.
“He’s not the fastest guy in the world but he’s done a fantastic job in what we call the ‘graveyard shift’ in English football, whether it’s the Premier League or the [League] Championship, it’s a tough position to play,” says Mariner. “You have to be able to get up the flank or come inside and he’s worked it out very, very well.
“He makes it difficult for defenses by not playing out wide on the line all the time. He can come underneath a striker like Zamora if he’s not running the line. Literally, it’s byline-to-byline. You have to defend deep enough to help the right back, and then you have to get forward into the attack and get to the byline and whip the balls in. The amount of kilometers those players have to cover in a game is phenomenal. You have to be super-fit to play those positions.
“He’s so valuable to the club because he’s versatile, he’d adaptable. Whether it’s on the left or the right, he gets on with his job. For the manager, it’s fantastic to know what you’re going to get from a player when you put him in.”
Duff, who has been suffering from a leg injury but trained Tuesday, is first choice for one wide position; Dempsey and Gera are other options. Zamora could be replaced by Erik Nevland, who is expected to see time anyway is this is his last game for Fulham before returning to Viking Stavanger, his former club, next month.
Dempsey started 27 of 29 Premier League games for Fulham this season and scored seven goals, one behind team leader Zamora. In European play, though, Zamora equaled his league total with eight goals in 15 matches. Dempsey played six European games, all starts, and netted twice, including an incredible chip for the final goal of an historic 4-1 win over Juventus and 5-4 edge on aggregate in the round of 16.
Dempsey will thus have only a few days of rest before reporting to the U.S. training camp in Princeton, N.J. Training commences Monday, and over the weekend fitness coach Pierre Barrieu will evaluate the players to assess how battered and bruised they are. The emphasis of the camp, according to U.S. coach Bob Bradley, will be on fitness.
A full slate of eight MLS games starts Thursday with defending champion Real Salt Lake hosting Houston. RSL striker Robbie Findley has been called to the U.S. camp, as has Dynamo forward Brian Ching, who has resumed training after missing two months with a strained hamstring. Findley, though, is questionable because of a lower back contusion.
“It’s been a little stressful; I’m not going to lie,” Ching said to mlssoccer.com. “Being injured and having that injury at that time is just bad timing. The past few weeks it’s something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit. I’m just happy that I’m fit now. I’m healthy. I’m ready to go.”
Seven other MLS candidates will be in action on Saturday, although Rapids striker Conor Casey isn’t among them. He scored two goals in the 3-2 victory over Honduras last October in San Pedro Sula that clinched a World Cup spot for the U.S. but didn’t make the 30-man roster.
“He called and told me that I wasn't going to be part of the squad,” said Casey. “It was a short conversation; obviously I'm disappointed. To not make the final 23 might not have been a surprise but to not make the 30 was one.”