Ever since the signing of Clint Dempsey, there has been a lot of speculation on how to best use him. Popular opinion on SaH seems to be that Dempsey should be used as a central midfielder. I disagree.
Since we ideally want to play our two star forwards, the most viable way to use Dempsey as a central midfielder is to switch to a diamond formation. I am hoping Sigi doesn’t decide to do this, for tactical reasons as well as continuity. All year, the Sounders have struggled to find constancy in their lineups, and changing formation would be an even bigger disruption. They’ve already played 22 games, all of them using Sigi’s 4-4-2 (or a close variant). They’re finally starting to see some chemistry develop, especially in the forward pairing. In addition, Dempsey’s basically guaranteed to miss time for the National Team games. The Sounders really have no other player that would be effective as a CAM. If we change tactics now, it will result in constant changing of formations, leading to more roster turmoil. With only 12 games remaining, I hope Sigi sticks with the empty bucket 4-4-2 for the rest of the season.
That’s why I’d like to see Sigi use Dempsey out wide in his 4-4-2. Though it’s admittedly not his best role, Dempsey can still play a pseudo-central role in this formation. He’d have positional freedom to drift where he wants and find pockets of space to create attacks.
This is his heat map against Houston, where he was used as a withdrawn forward. If he’s deployed opposite a more traditional winger like Neagle or Rosales, with two high forwards, I see no reason Dempsey shouldn’t be able to occupy similar space as an outside mid cutting in. We’ve even seen this before on the Sounders, with Mario Martinez getting a fair amount of positional freedom from a wide position. Since versatility is one of Dempsey's greatest strengths why would we not utilize that?
Finally, the last reason why I’d like to keep these tactics is that they just make sense for the Sounders personnel. As crazy as it sounds, I think Shalrie Joseph is key to making it all work. For all of his shortcomings, Shalrie has proven that when he finds time and space on the ball, he can be dangerous. Having a threatening deep-lying playmaker forces opposing teams to push their midfield higher up the pitch to deny him time on the ball. This, in turn, creates gaps in the space that Dempsey loves to operate in- between the lines of midfield and defense. This lineup leaves the opposition in a tough spot. Do they back off the midfield, leaving Shalrie room to pick his pass? Do they pressure higher, exposing gaps for America’s best player to exploit? Or do they push both the backline and midfield higher, creating space in behind that Seattle’s speedy forwards love to take advantage of? This just shows how dangerous this Sounders’ team can be, with weapons all over the pitch.
I realize this may not be the most exciting or popular opinion, and that’s okay. I believe that Clint Dempsey playing on the wing is ultimately best for the team.