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Clint Dempsey Gold Cup Suspension Would Not Be End of World for USMNT

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Tuesday night Clint Dempsey tore up the referee’s notebook during a U.S. Open Cup match. The video went viral, naturally. In the wake of the story numerous reports floated around about the possible suspension Dempsey faces. Under U.S. Soccer bylaws what he did constitutes “referee assault” and the penalty is a minimum three-month ban.

Here’s American Soccer Now breaking it down:

Where things get dicey for Dempsey is in Section 5, which lists what constitutes assault and indicates the penalties:

(1) The person committing the referee assault must be suspended as follows:

(a) for a minor or slight touching of the referee or the referee’s uniform or personal property, at least 3 months from the time of the assault

Dempsey clearly touched the referee’s “personal property.” The language also uses the term “must,” making it clear that the three-month suspension is mandatory.

This is going to go into the hands of U.S. Soccer. Will the Federation bend its own rules to accommodate a star player, especially on the eve of the Gold Cup next month? By definition Dempsey should be in serious trouble. The USSF could always work its way around and hand Dempsey a long suspension for the Open Cup and some MLS games, keeping him available for the Gold Cup.

If the USSF follows the letter of the law Dempsey is deserving of a substantial, warranted ban and if that means missing the Gold Cup, so be it. Last year Dempsey received a two-game MLS ban for a nut shot on an opponent.

Now I don’t want to write a strictly contrarian, easy, post here saying that the U.S. losing its captain for a tournament is a good thing — it is not. Dempsey, even at age 32, is still someone who can win matches with his goals. When you start thinking about the National Team’s best players, Dempsey is right up there with Michael Bradley. Dempsey’s contributions in the U.S. shirt over the last 10 years are commendable. Ripping up a refs notebook in a U.S. Open Cup game doesn’t offset the memory of his goals last year vs. Ghana or Portugal last year or all the other good stuff he’s done. His “U Mad Bro?” face thing remains funny.

Please, do not read this as an anti-Dempsey screed either, but if he is still among the first 2-3 players in terms of talent and must-start status come the 2018 World Cup in Russia, that is an awful reflection on the state of the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann. That’s backward progress. Players age. Eventually Lionel Messi will no longer be Lionel Messi, although’s a terrible example since he might actually be a wizard.

Along these lines American soccer fans think that getting called into the National Team is a lifetime pass — a thought-process Klinsmann is trying to break, saying nothing of the Landon Donovan situation last year. 2018 would represent Dempsey’s fourth World Cup and he’d be 35 years old. As it stands only 29 players have appeared and played in four or more World Cups, ranging from Pele, Diego Maradona, Thierry Henry, Xavi, Lothar Matthäus, Samuel Eto’o, Miroslav Klose and America’s own DaMarcus Beasley.

Eventually the USMNT must move on. This isn’t like an old rock band wheezing along, playing their same hit songs year-after-year without evolving.

Call it recency bias, but the young team Klinsmann called in for wins over the Netherlands and Germany earlier this month in friendlies looked quite good, particularly offensively in the second halves. The U.S. goes into the Gold Cup next month with minimal pressure — if it wins the tournament it automatically clinches a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup, if it loses out it plays the Gold Cup winner in a playoff to determine it.

With or without Dempsey, it likely behooves Klinsmann to play Gyasi Zardes or Jordan Morris or Juan Agudelo as strikers or let Joe Corona or Lee Nguyen get some extended run as a creative midfielder. Everyone knows what Dempsey can do in this setting, eventually it’s time to try some new faces. If some of these players might represent the future, let’s see what they can do next month? Does it sounds wise to go into the 2018 World Cup where the only tournament experience some players might have is the 2016 Copa America or 2017 Gold Cup?

Admittedly ,it’s a leap and a stretch to term Dempsey getting a potential three-month ban a “good thing” for the USMNT, but we can admit this would lessen the question of where to squeeze him into the formation.

National teams are supposed to be fluid. Dempsey’s petulance and stupidity may end up another player’s golden opportunity.