Dempsey hopes for a World Cup spot
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Clint Dempsey dribbled slowly up the left side, then accelerated past a defender and kicked the ball.
One of America's top soccer players smacked it off the left post in a scrimmage for the New England Revolution against Harvard last Tuesday. His former college coach had seen moves like that many times.
"His creativity is incredible. He's one of the best college players I've ever seen," Furman coach Doug Allison said. "He's a complete player."
So complete, in fact, that Dempsey -- an aggressive, entertaining player -- could soon be facing the world's best. He has a solid shot at making his first U.S. World Cup team when coach Bruce Arena announces the roster Tuesday.
"He's very competitive in training and in games," Allison said. "His intensity is very good and sometimes it spills over, as you can tell."
Joe Franchino still has a chipped tooth to prove it.
Dempsey and Franchino, teammates on the Revolution, scuffled during an intrasquad scrimmage March 13.
"I just got a blatant elbow to the face and I confronted him about it and he turned around and he popped me," said Franchino, captain of the Major League Soccer team and another intense player.
After the punch, they went to the ground and kept grappling before teammates separated them.
"They're two very competitive players," said Revolution forward and defending league MVP Taylor Twellman, who also could make the World Cup team. "Practices are competitive, so it's hard to knock that. There's a fine line. You have to practice like it's a game."
The Revolution suspended Dempsey for two weeks and the scrap cost the midfielder a spot on the U.S. team that played in Dortmund against Germany on March 22. He was concerned the fight might affect his chances of playing in the World Cup in Germany, where the United States opens June 12 against the Czech Republic.
"You're always concerned about what's going to happen, but what was done was done," Dempsey said. "You have to live with the consequences of your actions."
Both he and Franchino say they've moved beyond that.
After Dempsey scored in the season opener April 1 in a 1-0 win over Los Angeles off a free kick set up when Franchino drew a foul, Dempsey said, "It was a good job by Joey to win the foul."
And the two dined at the same table during the last road trip for a game at Kansas City on April 15.
"There's a lot of things that I learned," said Dempsey, who took plenty of abuse as one of the most fouled players in MLS last season. "You've just got to keep a cool head and try to be a smarter person."
He's focusing on his next game, the home opener Sunday against Chicago.
Then comes Tuesday's announcement. He's nervous even though he headed in the only goal March 1 in a 1-0 win over Poland in blizzard conditions in Germany.
Dempsey got a boost when Arena didn't start him April 11 in a 1-1 tie against Jamaica, the last tuneup before Tuesday's announcement.
"He told me that he's seen what he needed to see from me," said Dempsey, who played very well after entering the game in the 55th minute. "That was a good feeling ... but nothing's ever final until you hear on May 2."
Dempsey returned to practice with the Revolution on March 28 and coach Steve Nicol thinks two weeks away may have helped.
"I certainly hope it gave him a shake and made him realize what's important," Nicol said. "He's come back and he's looked as though that's exactly what he's done. He's taken it on board for what it was and he's back to what he was."
He was -- and is -- an excellent soccer player. The 23-year-old Texan was the MLS rookie of the year in 2004 and was second to Twellman on the Revolution last year with 10 goals.
Dempsey is an outstanding dribbler and effective header, and when he scores his style is all his own. After a goal in a 3-2 win over Japan in February, he stood in front of the net, swaying hips in a dance, then pounded his chest with his fists. He's appeared in a hip-hop video and in a photo spread in Maxim magazine.
"He's a pretty jovial guy," Allison said. "He's very loyal, a very religious guy, very family-oriented young man. His mom and dad were always very important to him."
His former coach is crossing his fingers that Dempsey will hear good news Tuesday.
"He deserves it," Allison said. "He's someone that's going to take players on and not be afraid of the big scene and I think that's what Bruce Arena is looking for."
So is Dempsey.
"It's everything, man," he said. "Every little kid, that's what you dream of playing. That's the biggest competition on this planet in my eyes and to be a part of that and to do that, man, I pretty much accomplished my dream and not many people can say they've done that in their lifetime."