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Clint Dempsey – Ready for World Cup Play in 2014?

Clint Dempsey has been rumored to go on loan to a team in the Premier League while on break.  While that might be a good thing for Dempsey, you have to wonder – who does it benefit?

Dempsey’s return to the MLS was something of a surprise.  On the other hand, when Tottenham went out and acquired Brazilian midfielder Paulinho at the start of July, and rumors circulated that the Spurs wanted Christian Benteke and that the 30 year old Dempsey was on the trading block, why should that be a surprise?

Dempsey put away 17 goals for Fulham in in the 2012/13 campaign, but his productivity dropped to just 7 for Tottenham the next year.  His goal production as a U.S. player career in the Prem. is at the top.  He is Fulham’s highest goal scorer of all time!  Not an insignificant accomplishment.

His goal production was steady the first full three years he played at Fulham.  His total goals beginning in the 2007/08 season was 6, 7, and 6.  That jumped in 2010/11 to 12, and again to 17 the following season.  Then his transfer to the Spurs, and his production fell off the cliff back down to just 7 goals.

But his return to the MLS was anything but what might have been expected.  The MLS is nowhere in the realm of the Premier League level of play.  Perhaps League 1, but probably League 2 is more like it.  The MLS is improving, there is no question, but the expectation is that a guy of Dempsey’s caliber would “smoke” the MLS.

Ah.  You do have to have a team around you who plays you the ball.

When I watched Seattle matches this year I got the distinct impression that the Sounders did not play Dempsey the ball enough.  The team has to get to a point that they understand their forwards movement and expectations.  Coaching and time on the pitch bring these elements together to achieve success.  It took Fulham three years to achieve the successful delivery of the ball to Dempsey and for him to tune his movement to his teammates.

But in Seattle there seemed to be a difference.  Eddie Johnson was the star of the show until Dempsey arrived, and from my perspective (which was only watching the play on TV) Eddie wasn’t happy to have to share time with Dempsey.  He didn’t deliver the ball to Dempsey when there seemed to be clear opportunities (indeed the best opportunity available) and instead would keep the ball or make a poor choice to pass the ball to a teammate.

The game in the U.S. is not as sophisticated.  There is a tendency to knock the long ball down the field, and to play a bit out of control.  The touch is poor as a whole when compared to the Prem., and far too often players do not choose to playDempsey_342x464 simple, but rather choose the tough pass that, if successful is great, but is a low percentage successful play (the long cross from the back right or left to the top opposite of the field is a great example).  Sure that play happens in the Prem. often enough, but the players are more successful.  Their touch to trap a ball is significantly better – U.S. players often have the trap bounce up causing a delay in play.

Dempsey benefited immensely from the talent in the Prem.  Unfortunately it doesn’t exist with the same frequency in the U.S., and Seattle, while a very talented team, is really no exception.  Eddie Johnson, a talented U.S. player, is simply not a high quality forward in most European leagues.


So, will Dempsey have the same success in the U.S. as he did in the Premier League?  I hope he does.  But I cant shake the feeling that it just won’t happen.

The reality is that Dempsey has never been a prolific goal scorer.

His MLS average is 6.75 goals per season, and that includes playoff matches.  Outside of the two years at Fulham, that’s about what he scored in the Prem. as well.

The only exception to Dempsey’s goal scoring among ALL of the teams he has played for is when he plays for the U.S. National Team!  When I looked at the total career minutes he played for all teams in the different leagues, Dempsey typically scores once every 3.2 games.  For the U.S. national team he scores once every 2.4 games based on minutes played.

I believe this supports the idea that Dempsey IS a quality player, but that quality only comes out at the finest level when he is playing with the best of the best.  That’s what he gets when he plays with the National Team.

Honestly I think Dempsey would do better playing in the Premier League than the MLS, assuming he plays for a team in the top third of the league.  Who would benefit from his playing in the Premier League?

The U.S. National Team, that’s who.  It’s not the Sounders – they don’t have the collective talent.  Going into the World Cup we need our top players to play with top players.  Klinsmann knows that and has asked for it.  Bruce Arena has refused to let Donovan go.   Let’s hope that won’t be true for Dempsey.  We will need our guys to be in top form to move out of the group in Brazil, 2014.

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