Yes, this is real life. Now that the initial buzz has died down it’s time to look at just what Clint Dempsey can do for the Sounders — hint, hint… it’s a lot.
It’s been about 17 hours or so since the Seattle Sounders FC made the biggest announcement in the club’s Major League Soccer history — the signing of Clint Dempsey as the team’s third Designated Player.
There’ is no use in me going over Dempsey’s pedigree again, that’s been covered here, here and if you want to watch a video to remind you of how good this player is (or just bring a smile to your face) there’s one below
The addition of Dempsey is nothing short of world-class, and he now becomes a member of the Rave Green that can make an immediate impact — even though he’s still in pre-season form. Word is that Dempsey will begin training tomorrow with the squad and will likely be ready to suit up Saturday at Toronto — talk about an entrance.
In this analysis I want to address not only how and where Deuce will be impact the Sounders, but also address the move for his career, US Men’s National Team future and how it’ll impact MLS. There’s a lot of varying opinions on this move — most of which comes from fans of other MLS teams, but some of the concerns may be legitimate.
How he’ll help the Sounders —
Before I dig into the speculation of what this move might do for Dempsey’s future, I want to look at how he can help this borderline playoff squad right now. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Sounders are a playoff team, even without Dempsey — but his addition nearly guarantees it. Deuce is a player who likes to play a very attacking midfield or withdrawn forward role. He’s also very good at getting back and helping in the defensive half, but he’s not the pure ball winner that someone like an Ozzie Alonso is — which is fine, because we still have Alonso.
Dempsey will not only be able to put chances away, but create them for others and help sure up the defense as well — not through winning balls, but by not losing possession as easy as this team has. Keeping the ball at his feet, distributing it and then getting into great scoring position is what makes Dempsey a world-class player, add his finishing touch and you see why he’ll come in and be the best player in the league.
Dempsey’s experience and understanding also cannot be overlooked. As the captain of the USMNT, Dempsey went 3-3 this summer in qualifiers that he skippered — meaning he’s a guy that US manager Jurgen Klinsmann fully trusts. Dempsey also has a long history of friendship with forward Eddie Johnson, backup keeper Marcus Hahnemann and knows midfielder Brad Evans quite well from the qualifiers this last summer. With the exception of Hahnemann, those players should be spending a lot of time on the pitch together which will only help forge the strength of their bond.
Where he’ll help the Sounders —
Ever since the possibility arose that Dempsey could make a move to the Emerald City, the only thing that’s been on my mind is how he’ll change and shape the team’s formation.
Dempsey can honestly be slotted anywhere besides keeper and center back and be an MLS All-Star, but finding his best spot is top priority, and then molding the rest of the team around him is key — not just slotting him in somewhere.
Looking at the Sounders attack (forwards/midfielders), let’s rank the importance of each player and how they can contribute when healthy.
2. Obafemi Martins
3. Eddie Johnson
4. Brad Evans
5. Lamar Neagle
6. Mauro Rosales
7. Shalrie Joseph
8. Marc Burch
9/10. Andy Rose/Alex Caskey
The first question that needs to be asked is where can Dempsey make the most impact. That answer is at center attacking midfield. This position gives Deuce complete freedom to drop back, attack, pass, shoot and make runs. It would also allow for link-up play with the two forwards.
Now for those forwards, it’s simple — Oba and EJ. We also know that the CDM spot is filled by Alonso. That leaves two midfield spots for the trio of Rosales, Neagle and Evans. In Rosales you get a smart player with great passing skill, Evans gives you versatility and intelligence and Neagle gives you speed, finishing and an attitude.
The most likely formation is either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. There’s also a slim chance at a 4-2-3-1. Here’s the squads I would put out for each of these formations. Also, just assume the keeper is Michael Gspurning and the back four is our best choice.
4-4-2 — This is my first choice system, where Neagle could come in for Rosales and switch spots with Evans
4-3-3 — This would require a lot of defensive help from Johnson and Neagle on the wings, but I like Evans and Alonso together
EJ Oba Neagle
4-2-3-1 — Essentially a 4-3-3 but Johnson and Rosales would drop into the midfield, making it a more defensive look
EJ Deuce Rosales
For my money, I think the 4-4-2 gives the Sounders the best balance and attacking options, with Evans being able to drop in and cover, Rosales swinging in crosses and Deuce pulling the strings. Either way, it’ll be very interesting to see how Sigi Schmid decides to put his team out.
What this move says about Dempsey —
It’s safe to say that Dempsey has come under some serious scrutiny for this move by both Eurosnobs and US fans as well. Deuce made the very public move from Fulham to Tottenham last season in order to play with a UEFA Champions League team — an expectation that the Spurs fell one place short of. Tottenham then started a major off-season restructure which made it look like Dempsey was on his way to riding a lot of pine.
It’s perfectly understandable why Deuce would want to leave that situation — it’s not that he’s not skilled enough, it’s just that he didn’t fit into the Spurs plans. The next move though is what made people question Captain America — why come to the MLS, a mid-level world league in your prime?
Dempsey made it very clear last night that he wants to give back to the league that gave him his start. This is the best way he can think of doing that.
Sure, Deuce could have moved to another English or maybe German squad and continue his chase of UEFA glory, but at that point his career would be marked by a constant mindset of jumping ship when it doesn’t go right — and that’s not who Deuce is. There’s also the fact that Clint has a family with three kids here in the states, and family (as we know from Erik Friberg last season) can pull people in different directions than originally expected.
How this impacts the USMNT —
This is easily the biggest gripe that fans have about the move — with Dempsey coming back stateside, he’s instantly going to fall out of the national team picture and become a mid-level player. This is complete speculation, and I agree that the level of competition is not what it is in Europe, but it is not right to assume that this move will ruin his career.
Can someone actually remind me where the USMNT’s all-time leading scorer played for most of his career and still plays there? It’s Landon Donavon and MLS.
Until we see what Deuce can do in this league, and how much it affects his USMNT game, it;s not fair to assume it’ll ruin him.
How this impacts MLS —
It is impossible to compare the signing to Dempsey to that of David Beckham, but a lot of fans are sure trying to. They are both massive signings for the league, but for completely different reasons.
When Beckham came to the states it was a move that put world eyes on the league, in turn making it more marketable and profitable. In short, the league would not have the exposure it does today without Beckham’s signing (followed by the likes of Thierry Henry and Marco di Vaio).
The difference with Dempsey though, and why I say it is the biggest signing in league history, is that he’s a current national team captain in the prime (not past) of his career, and still made the choice to come to MLS. This move paves the way for both young Americans to stay in the states, and for talented european players to make the move here before their 50th birthday.
MLS is not on the level of England, Spain, Italy or Germany, but every fan wants to see it there someday. The only way though that we get to that level is getting players to come here in their prime, paying them what they would make elsewhere and keeping talent in house. We cannot call out a player like Dempsey for making this move to a “lesser league” and then complain about us not being at Europe’s level. It’s like complaining about taxes while never voting.
This move will make MLS viable for any player in the world, regardless of their age or financial requests. This is how MLS becomes one of the world’s best leagues.
This move is nothing short of amazing for the league and the Seattle Sounders FC — now the team must understand the expectations to win are higher than ever. An MLS Cup this season is not an unreasonable goal, and fans have every right to be upset if a trip to at least the finals does not occur.
All the team can do for now though is practice and win. The home record is impeccable, the road record is less than ideal, but there’s a chance to turn that around in the next two weeks — and the Sounders will have a Deuce up their sleeve for both matches at Toronto and Houston.
Also, make sure to buy plenty of beer and jerseys from the team — I think they’re a little cash strapped.