In September, after months of inactivity while his transfer saga from Fulham to Tottenham got sorted out, U.S. national team attacker Clint Dempsey played 90 minutes in a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica when common conjecture would suggest that he would not have the fitness capabilities to do so.
It should come as little surprise, then, that Jurgen Klinsmann expects his top scorer to be able to go the distance in the two upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico after just returning following an almost month-long absence for a calf injury.
Dempsey returned to action Sunday, playing the final 45 minutes of Tottenham's 1-0 loss to Fulham for his first playing time since being a second-half substitute in Spurs' UEFA Europa League match against Lyon on Feb. 21.
Klinsmann said that he would have returned earlier in the week, but his wife gave birth to their third child, and he missed the second leg of Tottenham's Europa League round of 16 clash with Inter Milan last Thursday as a result. Tottenham lost the match 4-1 but advanced to the tournament quarterfinals on away goals after the teams played to a 4-4 aggregate draw.
"He would have played already at Inter Milan in their Europa League game, but he stayed home because of the birth of his third child, which we are totally happy and thrilled for his family," Klinsmann said.
The added challenge of returning after a long layoff this time around as opposed to last September is the fact that both of the USA's matches will be played at high altitude, first at the Denver-area Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Friday and then at Mexico City's famed Estadio Azteca next Tuesday. Klinsmann is confident that there will be enough training time for Dempsey to regain full match fitness while being able to combat the elements.
"He's in a good training rhythm," Klinsmann said. "I was in touch with him constantly. We have enough training sessions to get hopefully adjusted to the altitude. We are confident he can go the distance in both games."
One factor that could prevent Dempsey from going the distance against Mexico is if he happens to pick up a yellow card against Costa Rica. Dempsey is one of four U.S. players on the current roster -- Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu being the others -- who is one caution away from being forced to serve a one-game qualifying suspension.
Dempsey is the only player to appear in all seven matches during the current qualifying cycle, and he is the USA's leading scorer during that time with six goals. His 11 career World Cup qualifying goals are only second-best to Landon Donovan's 12 and are one more than current call-up Eddie Johnson and retired striker Brian McBride on the country's all-time list.