When the 2014 FIFA World Cup begins on Thursday, the United States will be among the 32 nations vying for the most coveted trophy in sports. If they manage to win it, let’s just say it would be a surprise. After all, our relatively inexperienced side opens play in a group that includes powerhouses Portugal and Germany, plus Ghana, the squad that bounced the U.S. from the last two Cups.
The odds may be against them, but the Americans are ready for the challenge. All week long, Rolling Stone will be profiling the players who make up the U.S. 23, and today, we’re talking to Clint Dempsey, the Nacogdoches, Texas native who has established himself as a tough-minded leader on the team. Calling in from Brazil, the man known as “Deuce” discusses his love of hip-hop, his previous World Cup haircuts, and his plans to shock the world.
The U.S. team arrived in Brazil on Monday, where are you right now?
I’m in Sao Paulo, at the training facility. We’re in-between sessions and I’m watching Brad Guzan and Michael Bradley play pool. We’re just chilling right now, we had a good session this morning. You’ve got to try and recharge the batteries, because the training sessions with the national team are pretty difficult. So I’ve made a couple phone calls, sat around with the guys, made some jokes. The waiting comes with the job, no matter where you’re playing, if it’s for your country or your club.
Do you have any pre-match rituals?
Well, if I’m on a good scoring streak, I like to wear the same underwear, but I wash them, obviously. On my shin guards, I put the names of people that I’ve loved and lost, and I kiss them before I put them on; it’s like they’re out there looking out for me, protecting me, like a shin guard protects you. And before we head out, I listen to hip-hop: Bun B, Trae tha Truth, Z-Ro, because I grew up in Texas, and I remember listening to that music, taking those drives back and forth to Dallas. It reminds me of where I came from.
Does Deuce, your rapper alter ego, make many appearances?
[Laughs] Everybody has headphones and does their own thing on the bus, but in the locker room, different guys will put on stuff. Lately, it’s been music Tim Howard puts on, stuff that’s new and old, mixed, with transitions. He got some music from a DJ, he just pushes play and the tracks kind of change on their own.
He’s no DJ Screw
Yeaaah, Screw! He was a legend.
Someone on Reddit alerted us to “We’re Better Than The Best,” which features your U.S. teammate Kyle Beckerman rapping. What does Deuce think of his skills?
Yeah, I saw that [laughs]. They were trying to do, like, a Super Bowl Shuffle. I don’t know if they let the players write their own lyrics though. Beckerman, he’s alright. He’s into music, he’s always bringing his guitar. He brought it with him down to Brazil. I was like ‘Man, how do you travel with that?’ That would be annoying to me. It’s just more stuff to carry.
This is your third World Cup. How has your role on the team changed from 2006 to today?
You know, I’m just one of those guys who will do whatever it takes. We have a lot of leadership on this team; Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones, a lot of players who played at a really high level. And it’s good to have the experience mixed with the youth, because a lot of the young players, they don’t know what to fear. Back in 2006, when I was playing with the national team, I wasn’t a main guy on the team, I was more of a sub, but getting an opportunity to play against Italy and Ghana, and being able to score a goal, it helped me, and it brought me to where I’m at today.
Do you regret your 2006 hairstyle?
[Laughs] Well, part of that was saving money on haircuts, because I wasn’t making a lot of money when I first got to the MLS. It’s funny to look back, but I grew up watching the South American style of play, and you saw a lot of the players, especially on Argentina, who had long hair, so I think that’s what young kids do. Your whole life people tell you to cut your hair, do this or do that, so it’s a way of rebelling. I had to grow my hair out to see what it was like.
Most experts don’t see the U.S. advancing past the Group Stage; what’s your response to that?
We don’t listen to all that. We control what we can control, which is how hard we work, and what we believe. And we believe that we can do something special and go far in this tournament. There’s always people who are going to be like a roller coaster, they’re going to go up and down in terms of belief in you, supporting you. So as long as you stay strong as a group, that’s what gives you confidence.
We know we deserve to be here, we were first in our group in the qualifying process, we got first in our group in the last World Cup, in a tough group with England and Algeria and Slovenia. So, we don’t listen to that stuff, we just keep moving forward. We know we’re in a difficult group, but at the same time, we know we have the quality to get out of the group. And that’s what we focus on.
So how do think this team will do in Brazil?
I would just say that we’re focused. That’s pretty much it. Our routine is ‘train, hotel, repeat.’ We’re trying to get as sharp as possible. Watching the tapes, trying to figure out our opponents. Trying to make it count, because it’s not about going sightseeing for us, it’s about taking care of business down here.