Striking While Hot: U.S. MNT Forwards Coming off Goal-Crazed Campaigns
Dempsey, Gomez Among High-Octane Offensive Powers During their Club Seasons
Any coach will tell you there is no such thing as having too many goalscorers on the roster. In a position where confidence is key and at a level where scoring opportunities can be a precious commodity, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will look down the list of his current crop of strikers and be excited about the prospects. Entering this summer, several U.S. Men’s National Team forwards have cashed in offensively on a routine basis and enter this critical stretch of games in fine form.
Clint Dempsey drew worldwide attention with his exploits at Fulham, netting 23 goals in all competitions while increasing his career tally to 50 in the Premier League and being voted the fourth best player in England’s top flight.
Dempsey’s form was one of historic proportions for any American player, and the 29-year-old Texas native wants to take advantage of the situation and get the most out of his “prime” years.
“I try to better myself every year, and it’s always a great feeling to be able to do that because it means that you’re moving in the right direction and you’re going to make the most of your career,” Dempsey said. “You feel like you’re going into your prime. These are supposedly the best years of your career and you want to enjoy them and you want to do something special. That’s just kind of my mentality, trying to make the most of the time I have left. I kind of started late in the [professional] game at 20, 21 years old, and I’m just making up for lost time, really, and trying to do something special on the club front.”
Dempsey said the key toward his goal scoring progression this past season has been his confidence and assertiveness whenever he gets to the box.
“It’s a gradual progression,” Dempsey said. “If you think about goals in the Premier League, I only scored five more goals this season in the Premier League (17 this past season, compared to 12 in 2010-11). But it’s a big jump from 13 to 23 goals [overall], adding 10 more goals to your game. You just get more confidence in front of the goal and sometimes they start going for you. But I definitely try to always be in the box when it crosses in and just try to get on the end of things. I’m not someone who’s afraid to take a shot. Sometimes players get aggravated with me on my team, but sometimes when I feel like I’m in a good position, I’ll take the chance to try to score a goal because I feel like I’m a guy that has that ability to make things happen. I put that pressure on myself, and maybe that contributes to me being successful.”
And he wasn’t the only one who found his form. Herculez Gomez produced a career year at Santos Laguna, tallying 19 goals and helping his team to the 2012 Mexican Clausura championship. The 2010 FIFA World Cup veteran caught the attention of Klinsmann, who has given Gomez his first sniff with the National Team since South Africa as it prepares for five games in an 18-day stretch, starting with a match against Scotland at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 26, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I think it went tremendously well,” Gomez said of his season. “Considering the fact that I came out to a team that was already pretty stacked and not too many people expected much out of me, I came in and I think I was an important factor in both runs that we had in CONCACAF and in our league. I’m extremely pleased. Obviously, I’ve got some good players around me at the club level. It helped me learn and grow, and I think it’s made me a better player.”
Once a goal scorer gets hot, he tries everything in his power to ride the streak. Gomez and Dempsey obviously had their share of those moments this season.
“When one goes in and the second goes in and the third, you start getting more comfortable, and that’s an important factor,” Gomez said. “I think a lot of it has to do with confidence, and obviously scoring goals will give you confidence and that confidence is transmitted by the work you put in day in and day out. Through that work you receive those opportunities and those chances, and through that effort you’ll most likely take advantage of them if you keep doing the right things.”
“It’s almost like you’re riding a wave,” Dempsey said. “You just want to keep that good form going, and when they’re going in they seem to go in bunches. You seem to get a few, and you also stop thinking about things. When you’re not scoring you can overthink and then you’re trying too hard to get that perfect shot, whereas when you’re on a little bit of a streak you’re just doing things a little bit more naturally. I think that plays in your favor for being more successful.”
And these are just two of the offensive weapons in the USA’s arsenal. In addition to the prolific efforts of Dempsey and Gomez, Jozy Altidore potted 19 goals with AZ Alkmaar, including 15 in the Dutch Eredivisie and four in Europa League. Chris Wondolowski entered camp as the MLS leader with 11 goals for the San Jose Earthquakes, and even youngster Terrence Boyd got into the action, tallying 20 goals for Borussia Dortmund II as the side gained promotion to the third division.
“When you have so many great offensive players, they push each other in training sessions and that makes everybody around you better,” Gomez said. “When you’re conscious that if you let off the pedal so to speak that the next guy can overtake you, that makes you work harder. That makes you strive for more, and the same thing here – you see Clint scoring goals, Jozy scoring goals, Chris is scoring goals. You know we’ve had plenty of forwards and guys who aren’t even called up yet that are in good moments, and I think that’s great. It’s a good problem to have.”
“The real question would be how we all fit into the setup in the sense of what will be the best starting 11, and how can we maximize those goals that are being scored and get that translated from club ball to the National Team,” Dempsey said. “It’s definitely a good problem to have if you’re a manager and it will be interesting to see how it plays out and what will be the best 11. You have that depth that if someone isn’t getting the job done that someone new could come in and pick up where they left off in their club season.”