Amidst Fanfare, U.S. World Cup Players Go Back To Work
Goalkeeper Tim Howard arrives at Sao Paulo International Airport on June 9, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Clint Dempsey’s introduction by David Letterman immediately brought the audience at New York City’s The Ed Sullivan Theater to its feet with cacophonous applause and chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!”
The applause lasted so long Letterman had to tell him to sit down.
Such has been the reaction and reception for the U.S. soccer captain and many of his teammates since their return from 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, which wraps up Sunday when Argentina and Germany play for the championship.
Dempsey has been feted wherever he goes. Besides the Letterman crowd Wednesday, he was mobbed by autograph seekers on the street afterward, and then greeted as the conquering hero the following day on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “CBS This Morning.”
The adulation is a far cry from the days when not only his predecessors struggled for recognition, but even Dempsey in his 10-year career with the U.S. national team has witnessed a change.
“It’s awesome, because I remember a time playing games in the States, World Cup qualifying games or a friendly, where you felt like you weren’t in your own country, you weren’t at home,” Dempsey told “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts about the fan support in Brazil.
“And now we’re at the point where you’re going down to a World Cup, you’re playing in Brazil, you’re feeling that ‘home away from home.’ So it’s pretty special.”
Dempsey, a forward, has been among the most sought-after of the U.S. players, having scored twice in the team’s four games, which made him the first American to record a goal in three consecutive World Cups.
Dempsey and goalkeeper Tim Howard, who became a Twitter star after his World Cup-record 16 saves against Belgium, even received a special phone call from President Barack Obama.
Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin returned to the Seattle Sounders lineup for Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup 3-1 extra time victory in the quarterfinals over the Portland Timbers, playing 91 minutes before being replaced. Both he and Dempsey are expected to play Sunday when the Sounders face the Timbers for a second time in five days in a Major League Soccer game before an anticipated crowd of 67,000 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Other U.S. players from MLS clubs also returned to their teams quickly. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman and reserve goalkeeper Nick Rimando departed Brazil immediately after the United States’ 2-1 extra time loss to Belgium July 1. They returned to Utah to help Real Salt Lake end a five-game winless streak three days later on Independence Day, beating the New England Revolution 2-1.
Both played the entire game before an appreciative capacity crowd of 20,513 at Rio Tinto Stadium in suburban Salt Lake City.
“We missed the guys,” Beckerman said. “We missed playing in front of our home crowd. That was a big part of it — we wanted to get back out there.”
Midfielder Brad Davis also played the same day, converting an 81st-minute penalty to rally the Houston Dynamo to a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls before another overflow home crowd of 22,312 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Midfielder Michael Bradley played 61 minutes in Toronto FC’s 2-1 loss to D.C. United Saturday while Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi entered in the 61st minute Sunday to help his team to a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire.
Los Angeles Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez and San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski are expected to play this weekend. The same is expected for Sporting KC defender Matt Besler, who — like Beckerman, Rimando and Davis — was back in the United States two days after the Belgium game for hours of interviews at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, then went to New York City for appearances on “Good Morning America” and “CBS This Morning.”
Among the foreign-based players, midfielder Mix Diskerud was like his MLS-based counterparts. He flew back to Norway to be on the bench for Rosenborg’s 5-3 victory over Haugesund Sunday. Diskerud then scored a goal Thursday in a 2-0 Europa League qualifying round win over Jelgava to extend the club’s winning streak to five.
For the others, a little vacation time has been in order before having to report to preseason training camps for the new European or Mexican league seasons.
Howard, who in 2000 was a back-up goalkeeper for Team USA in the Olympic Games in Sydney, has taken some vacation but also showed up in New York with ESPN personalities Alexi Lalas, Taylor Twellman and Max Bretos Thursday before he returns to England to begin training for the new Premier League season with Everton.
Other players also have a little free time. Defenders Timothy Chander of Eintracht Frankfurt, Fabian Johnson of Borussia Moenchengladbach and John Brooks of Hertha Berlin have more than a month before the German Bundesliga season begins Aug. 22.
Nineteen-year-old forward Julian Green will be looking to land a regular spot on Bayern Munich’s first team, graduating from the reserve side that plays in the regional German leagues and began their season Thursday.
Like Howard, striker Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), defender Geoff Cameron (Stoke City) and reserve goalkeeper Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) have a little less time with the EPL season starting Aug. 16.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya probably has the least time, with his team Nantes beginning the French league season Aug. 8 at home against Lens. However, he planned to visit the Empire State Building in New York Friday first.
One exception was forward Aron Johannsson, whose Dutch club AZ Alkmaar said last week that the 23-year-old Alabama-born, Icelandic-raised forward would need surgery on his ankle and will not be ready for six to eight weeks.
For the remaining two, midfielders Jermaine Jones and DaMarcus Beasley, their vacations may be shorter than expected. Beasley finished his third season with Mexico’s Puebla in April, but was placed on the team’s “transfer list,” making it likely he would not return.
Jones finished a six-month loan spell with Turkey’s Besiktas in May, and is out of contract. Reports have both possibly joining MLS clubs, which for former Chicago Fire member Beasley would be a return after a 10-year worldwide odyssey.
One place they are definitely supposed to be in Los Angeles July 16 for the ESPYS, which the U.S. team has been nominated for “Best Moment” for its victory over Ghana.
Jones and Beasley at least will be joined by teammates Altidore, Beckerman, Dempsey, Green, Rimando, Wondolowski and Yedlin for one last flash of World Cup glory.
Brian Trusdell is a writer from New Jersey. He has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.