Clint Dempsey will captain the U.S. national team in its crucial upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico, manager Jurgen Klinsmann said on Wednesday.
The announcement comes as Klinsmann prepares for Friday's game against Costa Rica and next Wednesday's match in Mexico amid reports of rifts in the U.S. locker room and questions about the former German captain's leadership skills.
Klinsmann said he had chosen 30-year-old Dempsey to succeed defender Carlos Bocanegra, citing Dempsey's clutch goal-scoring prowess as one key reason he chose him for squad captain.
"Clint is one of our most experienced players and ready to assume a more vocal leadership role," Klinsmann said in a statement. "He has been huge for us in World Cup qualifying so far and is already one of our key leaders. We know he will do a great job for these two important games."
Dempsey leads the Americans with six goals in seven games in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He is second on the all-time U.S. list with 11 in 27 World Cup qualifiers.
The 33-year-old Bocanegra, the American captain since 2007, was dropped Monday from the U.S. roster for the two qualifiers after losing his starting job with Spanish side Racing Santander. Bocanega, on loan from Glasgow Rangers, has not appeared in a game since Feb. 2.
With Bocanegra dropped after 110 international appearances and goalkeeper Tim Howard recovering after breaking two bones in his back on Feb. 26, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were widely thought to be the leading candidates to take over as captain. But Klinsmann announced Wednesday he appointed Dempsey to wear the captain's armband, after telling the team.
This week's games against Costa Rica and Mexico are the U.S. squad's first qualifiers since it was beaten by Honduras 2-1 in the CONCACAF qualifying opener on Feb. 6 and mark a crucial double-header for Klinsmann.
Dempsey, who has been sidelined by a calf strain since Feb. 21, returned Sunday to play the second half in Tottenham's 1-0 loss to Fulham.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.