Clint Dempsey: Be brave USA. Take risks and go out and play with no fear

I remember the night before the first World Cup match against Italy in 2006.

I woke up from a bad nightmare. That fear gave me strength.

Growing up, I didn’t have a dream league to play in. I had a film of the 1986 World Cup and I remember seeing Diego Maradona and other greats. As a child, I dreamed of playing the international game. That day I would play in packed stadiums, represent my country and influence matches. I prayed before going to bed last night, man. I wish I could get that chance.

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So I woke up from that nightmare and thought about the boy in Nacogdoches, Texas. I didn’t want to go out there and feel like I wasn’t going to leave a mark. I’ve felt that way once before: the 2003 U-20 World Cup. I played 20 minutes in the whole tournament and came off the bench in the game we won earlier. It’s something that always sits with me. I didn’t want to miss another World Cup because I couldn’t get on the field and make an impact. I didn’t want to go out there and feel like I wasn’t going to leave everything on the field. What do I know?

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In Germany it was on my mind. You better believe I fight in training. I believe that I will enter that field. I was going to make them play me. I would remember them.

That’s the mentality the U.S. needs to have against Iran on Tuesday. One game ahead. It’s one thing to be here representing your country, isn’t it? This is dope. In a way, you’ve made it. But there must be another side. You don’t want to let this World Cup go by and you haven’t put your mark on it. You are fighting for your country. For those who did not return home. You have to remember what it would be like to be a child on TV and wonder if you would ever have that opportunity. I hope you get the chance to do so.

Dempsey celebrates his goal in 2006 (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

You won’t have many opportunities to do something special in your life. And guess what? Here.

This team, the way they played against England – with confidence, with style, taking over the game, moving, passing the ball, dominating the midfield – was brilliant. Now all that remains is to set a goal.

There is no secret to graduation. Look at the target, pick your spot, look at the ball, check how you want to hit it, how you hit it. Sometimes things happen so fast that you don’t have much time to think. But trust him. That’s why you give everything you have in practice to replicate what it’s like in the game. It’s only a matter of time until they translate into each other.

You can see it coming. There are possibilities. It’s about conversion. Like that Weston McKenney opportunity. I’m sure if it has a back, it’s on a grid. You can’t put any pressure on it from outside. Believe in the work you are doing, keep it up. Be brave. Take the risk. If you don’t shoot, you don’t score. We are taking chances. We need to make sure we frame them. If they keep doing what they’ve been doing, especially like they did in the last game, they’ll have a chance.

Watching England play made me feel really confident because England have done a great job in the last two major tournaments. If you had told England fans that they would do what Gareth Southgate was going to do – in the semi-finals of the World Cup, in the final of the Euros – they would have bitten your hand off. And a lot of the guys in this England team have had that experience. They played in the semi-finals of the World Cup. They know what it’s like to reach the final of the Euros. We have guys who only know what it’s like to be in the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup finals. For almost everyone in this team, this is their first World Cup. They are learning along the way.

This shows that the team has a bright future.

McKenney can’t believe he missed his chance (Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

I don’t think there are many midfielders who can compete with ours. I would put Yunus Musa, McKenney and Tyler Adams against almost any midfielder in this tournament. Christian Pulisic assisted in his first game. Weston played well against England. Tyler was great at both. Tim Rome did a great job, he gives peace to our team. Matt Turner has shown that he is no. Tim Weah will remember our first goal for the rest of his life. Then you have Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reina, who want to make a mark in this tournament and are waiting in the wings.

Now all these guys are stepping up and showing why they should be here. You must leave the group. You leave the group, people remember that. You win games, people remember that.

This last game against Iran will not be easy. When you look at our political history as a country, it all calls for it. Iran know they only need a tie to advance. The task becomes more complicated. You can see the cohesion of the Iranian team against Wales. They have a lot going on at home and on the field. And it can make you weaker or stronger. I think it makes Iran strong.

I have participated in such games before. Against Ghana in 2006, I scored a goal — the goal that changed my life — and Ghana got a penalty, which I didn’t think was much of a penalty, and we were knocked out. Against Algeria in 2010 I had a goal I called offside, I wasn’t offside, and then Landon Donovan scored and we went through. I remember every game and every goal of my World Cups. These are games of thin margins and big moments, and sometimes you’re on the right side of those moments, sometimes you’re not.

On Tuesday, this American team had a chance to make history. We’ve come from missing out on the World Cup in 2018 to being here, but can you take it one step further now? Can they take it to the next level?

I’d say you shouldn’t leave this World Cup thinking, ‘Man, I wish I could have done that.’ I wish I could do that.” Go out there and take it with both hands. Go out there and play without fear.

Let them remember you.

(Top photo: Sam Richardson)


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