Clint Dempsey is raising his game 

October, 11, 2011

HARRISON, N.J. -- The most fascinating tactical development of Jurgen Klinsmann's short tenure with the U.S. national team has taken shape in the past week, with the new coach expanding Clint Dempsey's role in the attack.

On Saturday against Honduras, the 28-year-old floated around the middle of the field, just behind target man Jozy Altidore, with the ball going through him frequently. The Yanks' current No. 10 -- more on that in a minute -- created two goals: one a brilliantly manufactured, left-footed strike from the box that stood up for the U.S. in a 1-0 victory in Miami; the other a high-rising, second-half header which was called off by the ref for a phantom foul.

In Dempsey's first full national team camp, Klinsmann has challenged the Fulham star and U.S. prime-timer to raise his game. "I told him, 'I'm gonna ride you,'" Klinsmann told Insider ahead of Tuesday's match at Red Bull Arena against Ecuador. "I'm not holding back. I will tell you, there's more to come from him. He showed that against Honduras, the power that he has."

Dempsey so far has enjoyed that challenge, which includes more time on the ball. "I feel like I'm able to make more of an impact on the game," he said. "I like being closer to goal, whether it's putting people closer to goal or getting goals myself, so it's a position where I feel like I can express myself, play the style I fell in love with growing up."

That style was on full display against Honduras, which in addition to shot-making, included distributing the ball to the wings and organizing possession as a withdrawn forward. And since it was Dempsey, who can't help but show some flair with a ball at his feet, there were a few more "Clintinho" moments from the Texan. "He has so many tools in his toolbox that are very special," Klinsmann said. "I think he realizes now, too, that he can step up his game, he can still get to another level."

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.