United States coach Bruce Arena says Clint Dempsey is "not fully ready" to be included on the national team squad for this month's training camp, but hopes he can return for the World Cup qualifiers in March.
Dempsey has not played since August, when his club, the Seattle Sounders, announced he would be sidelined indefinitely with an irregular heartbeat. But Arena, who in November replaced Jurgen Klinsmann at the American helm, had been hopeful that three-time World Cup vet Dempsey - the second-leading scorer in U.S. history -- would be able to participate in some capacity.
"We've been following Clint and communicating with the Seattle team, and Clint's making great progress," Arena said during a Facebook chat with fans. "He's going through his progressions in Seattle, and at this time, he's not fully ready to come in to camp."
However, Arena, who gave Dempsey the first of his 130 caps in 2004 during his first stint as U.S. boss, remains optimistic that the 33-year-old forward could be available in March for the pair of high-stakes World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama.
"We really believe that by March he'll be ready to play in Seattle and be a possibility for our qualifiers," the coach said.
In addition to Dempsey, Arena also explained the omission of central midfielders Cristian Roldan, Demspey's teammate in Seattle, and New England Revolution playmaker Lee Nguyen.
"He's one of those players that just got left out in the end," Arena said of Roldan, who helped the Sounders hoist MLS Cup last month. "I think he had a fantastic year in Seattle and we're going to continue to follow his progress. I would imagine during 2017 he'll have an opportunity."
Arena isn't closing the door on Nguyen, either.
"Lee is a very good player," he said. "I went with a couple of other players in his position but still believe that he's a player that we have to consider down the road."
There were also a few surprises in how U.S. Soccer describe the positions of some players, with Sporting Kansas City winger Graham Zusi listed as a defender for the January camp.
"We know that he can play in the right back position," Arena said of Zusi, a 2014 World Cup vet. "We have a talented group in the midfield and think that Graham can still help our team as a right-back, and we're going to give it a shot."
Arena revealed his thoughts on other players' best positions, too.
"Kellyn Acosta, in my opinion, defensive midfielder," he said. "That's where he plays with FC Dallas, so we plan on looking at him in that position in the January camp."
Acosta played left back under Klinsmann. But Gyasi Zardes, who was mostly used as a forward by Arena with the LA Galaxy, will likely remain on the wing with the national team.
"Gyasi's versatility makes him very valuable," Arena said. "He's a lot like [Jordan] Morris in that regard. They can both play as strikers, and they can both play outside midfield."
Wherever his individual players line up, though, Arena made it clear that he won't be going to a three-man back line -- a look Klinsmann experimented with, unsuccessfully, in his second-to-last game in charge -- at least in the near team.
"Clearly, I think at this time we have to have a back four," Arena said. "Playing three at the back is always an option at some point in time. But in a short period of time like a January camp, or in a short camp in March to prepare for qualifiers, we wouldn't do that. We'll play out of a back four. How we line up above that back line remains to be seen."