Clint Dempsey won’t join USMNT for World Cup qualifiers in March

The biggest question facing the U.S. men’s national team right now is, who will Bruce Arena count on for World Cup qualifying in March? Arena is still figuring that out, but we can eliminate one name from the the list: Clint Dempsey.

The Seattle Sounders striker was medically cleared to train again last week after a heart condition caused him to miss the second half of last season. The Sounders said Dempsey could start featuring for his club as soon as in preseason matches.

But asked about a return to the USMNT in time for the World Cup qualifier against Honduras in March, Arena ruled it out.

“I don’t think would be realistic,” he told ESPN in an interview. “The most important thing is his health right now.”

“As you know, you take 6-8 months away from the game, it takes you a while to get back. I’m just hopeful when March comes around, he can be part of Seattle’s plans and Major League Soccer. Then as he continues in the season, hopefully he can come back to the national team.”

That means that in all likelihood, Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood’s partnership together up top should continue, if Arena does go with a two-striker formation. Dempsey can play a withdrawn role that is a bit similar to a No. 10, which Arena has said he wants, but he has plenty of options there he is considering, including Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber.

Dempsey was sidelined in August due to an irregular heartbeat. He briefly came back a month later but was quickly ruled out for the rest of the season. Now, it looks like he is back for good, and while he will probably play a big role for the Sounders immediately, his USMNT future is still in doubt — at least for now.