If the Sounders brass is wary about Clint Dempsey’s inauspicious start to his MLS rebirth in Seattle, they aren’t letting on. He did, after all, join the club halfway through the year, when most were in mid-season form and he was still working himself into game shape. Whether it’s fütbol or football, it takes time for any team athlete adjust to a new league and new teammates. The style is different and the system unfamiliar.
And the Sounders are winning, eight victories in nine games, propping them atop the Western Conference table five months after they sat in last place. Seattle is 4-1-0 in games in which Dempsey has appeared, their only blemish coming Aug. 17 in a 3-1 road loss to the Houston Dynamo.
So everything is okay, right, Sigi Schmid?
“I’m not concerned about that at all,” the coach said Thursday at the Starfire training complex in Tukwila.
When asked about Dempsey’s slow start, he urged patience to those waiting to embrace the midfielder for his scoring prowess.
“That will come,” Schmid said. “It’s just important not to pour pressure on himself. For us to pour pressure on him makes no sense, either. He’s getting good looks in each game and eventually those looks will go in.”
But they haven’t yet, His numbers are nada: zero goals and zero assists in 355 minutes. That includes three starts and five appearances, though his chance to build a rapport with teammates was interrupted when he missed two games this month because he was on loan to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Without him, Seattle beat Chivas USA 1-0 and the Chicago Fire 2-1.
The question will linger until Dempsey rids his stat line of the double goose-egg: Is the pressure of earning $5 million in a league that pays teacher salaries to its lower-tier players beginning to weigh on the former Tottenham Hotspur? According to a story in USA Today, merchandise sales are up 40 percent since the Sounders signed Dempsey Aug. 3.
“I think every player puts pressure on themselves to do well,” Schmid said bluntly.
Dempsey’s return to the United States following a seven-year stint in the English Premier League brought with it unprecedented expectations — especially for a Sounders team that hasn’t won an MLS Cup but draws 40,000 fans for every match at CenturyLink Field. HBO series Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel Tuesday ran a story about the city’s affection for a game that many in the country ignore during the four years that separate each World Cup.
In an interview Tuesday with reporters, Dempsey didn’t sound fazed by the spotlight usually reserved for those starring in Europe.
“I feel like I’ve been playing good,” he said. “I’m liking the touches I’m getting, the chances I’m creating. I like the style with which I’m playing the game. But I’d like to be scoring goals and getting assists. I think that’s something that will eventually come. That’s something I’ve done with every team I’ve been on. Those are the things that are lacking at the moment.”
In five games, he’s fired 18 shots, three on goal. Opponents have marked him tightly, sometimes with multiple defenders, while playing him particularly tough, which to some extent has opened up the rest of the field.
“He’s done a lot to help us,” said Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin. “Even though he hasn’t had a goal or assist, he’s put us in good situations.”
He will try to continue that Saturday when the Sounders travel to LA for a nationally televised match (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports) against the Galaxy, the club that defeated Seattle 5-2 in aggregate goals last season in the conference finals. Their forwards, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, dominated Seattle’s back line in that series. Donovan was limited in Thursday’s workout as he tries to recover in-time from a sprained ankle for a match that will feature the highest profile players in MLS.
“They’re a team that is going to go after games, to create chances, and in that process, they sometimes leave themselves open,” Schmid said.
For Dempsey, the chance to reassert comes Saturday.
Clint’s playing as well as can be expected. It’s next season where he’ll be a superstar. But look at the turnaround that’s happened with him here!