The U.S. Soccer Federation has arranged private flights for Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey to rejoin the national team in Washington ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal against Jamaica on Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium, the USSF said Thursday.
The unusual arrangement was necessitated by family weddings that they were given permission to attend Saturday. Donovan will fly from California, Dempsey from Texas. The star duo was given permission by Coach Bob Bradley well before the tournament got underway.
Asked about their absence in the build-up to a crucial match, Bradley said: “We’re not concerned. When you are into a tournament like this, the days after a hard game are also regeneration days. Much of our preparation work has been done.”
Bradley said he wasn’t sure when the players would arrive, though with private jets transporting them, both seem likely to land Saturday night. A commercial flight might have forced Donovan to take a red-eye, delaying his arrival until Sunday morning.
Bradley was put into a difficult situation with the requests. On one hand, he respects the players’ personal lives. On the other hand, he must keep the team in his best interests.
Had the weddings conflicted with a match, Bradley wouldn’t have granted permission.
“As a coach, you sometimes have to make difficult decisions,” he said. “Certainly we’ve also respected what family means to players. In these cases, after speaking to the two players, these are important days for them and their family. So you weigh that against the team and you balance it out and make those decisions.”
U.S. players said they appreciate the situation.
“Chemistry is important, it’s still here, I know there isn’t any dissention in the group,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “Life’s funny, man. There are all types of things that make the world go round: Your family is important obviously, this team is a family, so we’re all here for one another. They’ll be here and I’m certain they’ll be ready. If they’re not, Coach will make the decision, but I’m certain they will be.”
Meantime, only nine players practiced at the RFK training grounds while the remainder of the squad did fitness work at the team hotel in Arlington. The players werre Howard, Alejandro Bedoya, Tim Ream, Jonathan Spector, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley and Juan Agudelo. D.C. United rookie goalkeeper Joe Willis was invited to fill out the group.
United’s Charlie Davies, whose national team career was derailed by a car accident in October 2009, stopped by to watch. He and Bob Bradley embraced and chatted for a few moments.
Ticket sales for Sunday’s doubleheader — USA vs. Jamaica at 3 p.m., Panama vs. El Salvador at 6 p.m. — surpassed 33,000 this morning and continue to go fast. As of this afternoon, only obstructed-view seats at reduced prices were available, suggesting that total sales are over 40,000. Capacity is around 46,000.