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Sep 3, 2012

Clint Dempsey speaks about Fulham saga

MIAMI -- Clint Dempsey started Monday with some fitness testing, then spoke eagerly of training for a few more hours in South Florida's sweltering heat and humidity.

It sure beats the waiting game he's been playing the last few months.

The U.S. forward finally has matches to prepare for again. He hasn't played in a competitive game since June, a streak he hopes to see end Friday when the Americans head to Jamaica for the start of a home-and-home World Cup qualifying series that could go a long way toward which nation gets to take control of Group A.

And it all comes not long after his status in Europe was finally sorted out -- with him now playing for Tottenham after more than five years with Fulham.

"I'm very relieved. Looking forward to getting back to playing," Dempsey said. "I think the new team is a perfect fit. They qualified for a place last season for Champions League but missed out on a technicality. But it's still in London. My family doesn't have to move far. My daughter, she can go to another international school and be on the same curriculum. It couldn't have worked out any better in that regard."

The Americans will train in Miami until flying to Jamaica on Wednesday.

Dempsey led Fulham with 23 goals last season, and has long spoken of his desire to play at the highest level -- which, for him, means Champions League. Tottenham finished fourth in the Premier League last season, but missed out on getting into the Champions League after Chelsea won the title and England's last qualifying spot, the "technicality" Dempsey spoke of.

For weeks, it seemed like Dempsey was headed to Liverpool. Talks broke down, and it wasn't until the trade window was nearly closed before Fulham struck a deal with Tottenham.

In his eyes, whether Tottenham is actually in the elite tournament field or not, Dempsey sees himself now as part of a Champions League-caliber club.

"I'm disappointed in the way I was portrayed, in the end, with Fulham," Dempsey said. "I always wanted to play at the highest level possible. That was never a secret. That's something I always said. It would be a dream of mine to play Champions League and you want to play on the best team possible to try to get there. That's definitely a team with a lot of quality in it, but now it's all about the team that I'm with."

The saga started over the summer, when Dempsey -- who was in the last year of his Fulham deal -- first was linked to Liverpool when Reds coach Brendan Rodgers acknowledged inquiring about his availability. Fulham coach Martin Jol later said Dempsey refused to play for the club, one of the salvos in a back-and-forth that led to Dempsey tweeting that there were two sides to the story.

On Monday, Dempsey said he was simply relieved to look ahead.

"There were some things that were said that weren't true," Dempsey said. "That's in the past now. It's about looking toward the future and like I said, I'm looking forward to playing with Tottenham. It's a great team, a great club. I want to thank the fans of Fulham. It's been 5½ great years. Some of my best memories in football have been there. I want to thank the chairman for taking a chance on me from MLS and I wish them well in the future."

Of course, his future -- his immediate future, anyway -- is wearing the red, white and blue against Jamaica over the next couple weeks.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann says if Dempsey is physically ready, he'll play Friday, when the Americans look to secure their hold on the top spot in the group. Dempsey said his baseline testing Monday went well, and that the break from matches might actually prove to help him.

"Ready to get going. Excited," Dempsey said. "Feel like I've gotten a good rest because I have been going nonstop for a number of years now. It's been kind of nice to let my body heal up, because I was pretty beat up after last season."

The U.S. and Jamaica have 1-0-1 records in Group A qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Americans have never won a World Cup qualifier in Jamaica, adding plenty of emphasis to Friday.

"Any time you play World Cup qualifying games in another country, it's always going to be difficult," Dempsey said. "The fans are going to be really up for the game, so the players are going to be really up for the game and it's going to be a challenge."

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