How the U.S. can adapt to latest misfortune 

January, 20, 2010

Fans greeted news that Clint Dempsey's knee won't require surgery with a national sigh of relief. But for the U.S. team, heading into Saturday's friendly against Honduras in Los Angeles, the injury is still creating shortness of breath.

While Dempsey's prognosis is brighter than first thought, it's still not a guarantee that Deuce will return to the form he was in when he conquered the Confederations Cup by the time the U.S. plays its World Cup opener against England on June 12.

Coach Bob Bradley's staff has to operate under the assumption, at least for now, that they may not have Dempsey at full strength. "Missing Clint would be a blow," assistant coach Pierre Barrieu acknowledged.

At the Confed Cup, the speedy combination of Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore at the top of Bradley's 4-4-2 formation -- abetted by Dempsey's opportunistic sniping and the relentless running of Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley in the midfield -- created a style that actually frightened U.S. opponents.

After Davies' October car accident and Altidore's recent struggles at Hull City, that plan seemed like ancient history. Even before Dempsey went down, the Yanks were searching for a forward who could replace Davies and put pressure up front. "I don't think we have an answer right now," Barrieu admitted.

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.