USMNT legend Clint Dempsey and coach Bruce Arena discuss differences and discuss rivalry with Landon Donovan

Years after their previous collaborations on the U.S. Men's National Team, former head coach Bruce Arena and retired star Clint Dempsey reunited and recalled the disagreements that created tension during their years on the international stage.

The pair met on the latest episode of Kickin' It, the CBS Sports Golazo Network interview show co-hosted by Dempsey. Arena was the final guest on the show and reflected on his decades-long career in American soccer, including the suspension he received from MLS last year for “insensitive and inappropriate comments.”

Arena was the USMNT coach during the first two years of Dempsey's international career, as well as the last few months of his historic goalscoring period. He had to deal with different versions of the ambitious player, which presented different challenges as Arena never had the opportunity to work with Dempsey in his prime. Dempsey has discussed the conflicts he felt with Arena in previous episodes of Kickin' It, but was given the opportunity to address the coach himself, which inspired him to flashback to incidents from nearly two decades ago, as well as moments much more recent took place.

Here's a timeline of the sticking points in Arena's relationship with Dempsey, including input from both parties.

Early tensions

Dempsey made his senior team debut in 2004 during his rookie year with MLS' New England Revolution and after experience in the youth national team setup. The Cold War was almost immediate: Arena described Dempsey as a “tough character” who always “looked at me like you wanted to beat me up.” Arena also said that Dempsey “may have spoken three words to me in the years we were together. He was quite reserved.” The fact that it took some time for Dempsey to actually become a mainstay in the team meant that there was always some uncertainty between the two.

“You take me to camp and I wouldn't make the roster and I'd be like, 'F…, dude. Every time,'” Dempsey said. “I just felt like I never – I wasn't in your plans and then I heard, 'He's a player who just likes to try things.'”

Although Dempsey took it as a derogatory comment, Arena said it was actually a compliment to call him “a player who just likes to try something.”

“I thought that was a great quality.” Arena said. “That means, 'This guy has the balls to go on the field and play and do it.'”

“I respect that, but I just had the feeling – and Thomas Rongen is the same way – that you felt I had the quality and the balls to go there and play,” Dempsey responded. “But I didn't play. I sat on the bench.”

Arena attributed it to an inability to understand Dempsey and issued a brief apology.

“I'm going to be honest with you,” Arena concluded. “I don't quite understand what your career has been with me and how things have evolved. My apologies.'

On the way to the 2006 World Cup

By the time the 2006 World Cup came around in Germany, Dempsey was playing a significant role on the USMNT and Arena rewarded him with his first roster spot at the tournament. The former player was grateful for Arena's role at a transformative moment in his career.

“I have to thank Bruce for picking me for the 2006 World Cup squad, which allowed me to realize my dream of playing for my country in a World Cup and scoring in a World Cup, which allowed me to go to Europe. ” Dempsey said.

Dempsey then spent five years at Fulham, scoring 50 Premier League goals, before a season-long spell at Tottenham Hotspur preceded his return to MLS with the Seattle Sounders. Things may have turned out well in the long run, but the journey to the 2006 World Cup was complicated thanks to the dynamic between the national team and the Revolution, where Dempsey was still playing.

“I do know that I wanted to take you to camp early in your career and you had a run-in in New England,” Arena said. “And they asked me not to bring you to camp because I would show up for them.”

Dempsey said Arena's exclusion increased tension between the two.

“That was already after that camp in January when things were going well and that was in a World Cup year, which was in 2006,” Dempsey said. “Then something happened to me and a player at the Revolution and I didn't get called up. It was an away friendly in Germany that I didn't go to. It almost made a mess, I think, not being in the team. ” , Do you understand what I mean? That happened in a World Cup year.”

Arena felt that Dempsey should take some responsibility for the miscommunication between the two of them during that time.

“I would say this, that you are to blame for that,” Arena said. “You should have said something. What should I do, cut your head off? If you have a problem, you should say something, because I always thought I was trying to keep an open dialogue with the players. I would say, ” If there's a problem, you need to talk to me.'”

Back to square one in 2017

Arena left his position with the USMNT after the team failed to advance out of the group stage of the 2006 World Cup, but returned in 2017 amid a troubled campaign to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The US lost to Mexico and Costa Rica in their opening matches of the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, prompting the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and rehire Arena.

At first, Arena and Dempsey felt like they were making progress. The two sat next to each other on the plane back from the USMNT's 1-1 draw in Panama in March, the first time Arena feels like they've gotten to know each other well.

“I thought that was excellent,” Arena said. “That's the first time I really got to know you. It was great and there was always a little distance between you and me and probably the coaches. That's probably who you are and what we see here is the challenge that coaches have, especially with elite players.”

But at 34, Dempsey felt his role on the national team was diminishing. He said his relationship with Arena only took a turn for the coach in the third match of the qualifying campaign, when the US defeated Trinidad and Tobago in June.

“I think the feeling of a little bit of pain started when I was subbed in the Trinidad game in Denver,” Dempsey said. “For me, that's the moment our relationship changed a little bit. I thought from that moment on I was seen as a super-subtype player and that didn't sit well with me, but like you said, I was an asshole and that was my mentality .”

Dempsey also criticized Arena's tactical decisions during the USMNT's match in Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of World Cup qualifying, when the team lost 2-1 and missed the 2018 World Cup – the first time they had won the would miss competition. since 1986.

“Then we go to Trinidad and then some of the decisions are made – I'm not saying I should have started, but I should have had Bobby Wood and Jozy [Altidore]I think Christian [Pulisic] Being in that attacking role, there wasn't really much defending in a match where you had to get a result, at least a draw, to get out of that group,” Dempsey said. “Then the post-match conversation. You got me into halftime, I hit the post, did what I could do and then you came up to me and said, 'I appreciate you giving it everything,' and I was like, 'Well, f— yeah . That's what I always do.' That doesn't change. I'm not coming back from two heart procedures to fuck. I want to be here. I want to win. I want us to be successful.”

The rivalry between Dempsey and Donovan

There was a longstanding debate about the talents of Dempsey and Landon Donovan during their playing days as both vied for the unofficial title of best player on the USMNT. Dempsey said he always thought Arena was “a Landon guy” as the person who really gave Donovan his first real shot at the USMNT and played a big role in Arena's 2002 World Cup team that went to the quarterfinals. Arena and Donovan later also worked together successfully in the LA Galaxy, becoming one of the most successful teams in MLS.

“I think I felt that way and that may have been insecurity,” Dempsey admitted. “That could have been what I needed to motivate myself to say, 'I'm going to show everyone.'”

Arena quashed the idea pretty quickly.

“I had the utmost respect for Landon,” Arena said. “I brought him to the national team at 17, 18 years old. His first game was in LA against Mexico in a friendly at the LA Coliseum in front of 90,000 people and he scored a goal. And when I first met Landon , I was coaching DC United and we went to Bradenton for a preseason camp and Landon was a complete jerk, talking trash and stuff on the field. [Marco] Etcheverry would kill him, but he was great and [DaMarcus] Beasley was playing and I saw those guys and I thought, 'Wow. These guys have a future,' and I brought him in and I got to know him.”

However, at this point in the rivalry, Arena suggested he would choose Dempsey or Donovan.

“Landon is a great guy,” Arena said. “If he had that advantage [Dempsey] If he had, Landon would have been incredible – not that he wasn't. He was a great player but he didn't have the fire that Clint brought, but am I a Landon guy? I'm everyone's man.”

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