Dempsey expects mid-March return
United States forward Clint Dempsey said Thursday he will be back in action for Premier League club Fulham by mid-March.
Dempsey has been on the sidelines since injuring his right knee in Fulham's 2-0 loss to Blackburn on Jan. 17.
It had been unclear if Dempsey would recover in time for the World Cup in South Africa, which starts June 11, but he is running freely in training and has been building up the strength of the knee with leg weights.
The 26-year-old Dempsey is already prepared for the next stage of his rehabilitation, even though he said he did not yet have a date for when he could resume full contact training.
"I don't know exactly the protocol for that but I know I'll start touching the ball on Friday, which is tomorrow," Dempsey told The Associated Press. "Obviously, I'm looking forward to that."
Dempsey's injury initially seemed to threaten his involvement in the World Cup, where the U.S. is in a first-round group including England, Algeria and Slovenia.
But the west London club and his national federation have got increasingly optimistic over the weeks and his projected return means he could be back in action in time to play in the second leg of Fulham's Europa League round-of-16 match.
Fulham is in its first ever season of European competition but advanced Thursday after a 1-1 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk clinched a 3-2 aggregate win over the trophy holder.
While many other players will then be at the end of a long grueling season when they head to the World Cup, Dempsey could be fresher than opponents.
The U.S. begins its World Cup campaign in South Africa against England on June 12, before meeting Slovenia six days later and finishing the group stage against Algeria on June 23.
Dempsey may link up with the U.S. squad in the Netherlands next week, where the team has a friendly in Amsterdam against the Dutch national side. There is no chance of him being involved in the match.
Dempsey said he had kept in regular contact with fellow U.S. forward Charlie Davies during his rehabilitation from injuries sustained in a car crash in October.
But Dempsey said their conversations had not centered on comparing injuries.
"That's the last thing you want to focus on, but I know he's doing well," Dempsey said. "He's doing jogging and doing some fast feet work and hopefully he'll be fit.
Davies, who has four goals in 17 international appearances, broke several bones and injured his bladder during the Oct. 13 accident in the Washington, D.C., area.
He is now back in France, where he is in his first season with Sochaux.