Clint Dempsey is going to play a role Saturday, but after failing to score a goal or provide an assist during his return to Fulham, there has been some concern among Sounders and USMNT fans alike that he just might not have it anymore. Some of that concern is also based on his relatively low level of production in MLS after signing with Seattle last summer.
How worried should USMNT and Sounders fans be? To find the answer to that question, we really need to look beyond goals and assists to more advanced data to find out whether there is hope that the level of production we're used to associating Dempsey with will return in 2014.
The amount of shots taken and shots on target have been shown to be the most reliable predictors of expected goals. In this post from StatsBomb examining the repeatability of expected goals models, Ben Pugsley concluded that the number of shots taken and shots on target are actually more reliable than shot accuracy and shot conversion percentages. There is some more advanced analysis based on shot location, but that would probably be better suited for an article focused on shooting. The purpose of this article is to discover how well Dempsey has played his attacking midfield role, and I'd like to begin with shooting.
Shots Taken and Shots on Target
|Rank||Name||Shots per 90||Rank||Name||Shots on Target per 90|
|1||Clint Dempsey||6.36||1||Eddie Johnson||1.41|
|2||Eddie Johnson||3.08||2||Obafemi Martins||0.98|
|3||Obafemi Martins||2.64||3||Clint Dempsey||0.97|
|4||Adam Moffat||2.56||4||Lamar Neagle||0.93|
|5||Lamar Neagle||2.54||5||Mario Martinez||0.89|
Two things really jump out at you in that table. The first is that Dempsey took more than twice as many shots per 90 as the next most active shooter. The second is that, despite taking significantly more shots, Dempsey didn't manage to get more on target than either Martins or Johnson. Part of that may be due to playing a deeper role and taking shots from further out than is typically the case with our strikers, although it is worth noting that Martinez is up there in shots on target per 90, despite also playing an attacking midfield role.
This is the area that is often viewed as most important for players in Dempsey's central attacking midfield role. You generally want your CAM to create opportunities for the strikers and other attacking midfielders.
Key Passes, Big Chances Created, and Dribbles
|Rank||Name||Key Passes per 90||Rank||Name||Big Chances Created per 90||Rank||Name||Dribbles|
|1||Mauro Rosales||2.69||1||Brad Evans||0.31||1||Steve Zakuani||3.29|
|2||Clint Dempsey||2.49||2||Clint Dempsey||0.28||2||Osvaldo Alonso||1.81|
|3||Mario Martinez||2.15||3||Mauro Rosales||0.25||3||Lamar Neagle||1.27|
|4||Steve Zakuani||2.01||4||Alex Caskey||0.21||4||Clint Dempsey||1.11|
|5||Eddie Johnson||1.93||5||Lamar Neagle||0.19||5||DeAndre Yedlin||1.06|
Although he isn't really known for creating a ton of chances for his teammates, Dempsey does compare favorably with other Sounders players in chance creation last year. His rankings in shooting and chance creation put him in Fredy Montero territory.
There are quite a few statistics that track a player's ability to help his team keep possession of the ball. They are fouls won, offside, times dispossessed and turnovers. With the exception of fouls won, the lower the number is, the better the player is at keeping possession
Since non-attacking midfielders and defenders aren't normally in a position to be called offside, I'm excluding them from that metric. I'm also only including attackers in the times dispossessed and turnover metrics, because they typically face the most pressure on the ball because they spend more time in the attacking third than non-attacking midfielders and defenders.
Fouls Won and Offside
|Rank||Name||Fouls Won per 90||Rank||Name||Offside per 90|
|1||Clint Dempsey||3.73||1||Clint Dempsey||0.14|
|2||Eddie Johnson||2.24||2||Mauro Rosales||0.17|
|3||Mario Martinez||2.15||3||David Estrada||0.36|
|4||Mauro Rosales||1.99||4||Steve Zakuani||0.37|
|5||Osvaldo Alonso||1.82||5||Obafemi Martins||0.43|
Times Dispossessed and Turnovers
|Rank||Name||Dispossessed per 90||Rank||Name||Turnovers per 90|
|1||Steve Zakuani||2.2||1||Mario Martinez||1.07|
|2||Mauro Rosales||2.52||2||Mauro Rosales||1.16|
|3||Lamar Neagle||2.99||3||Steve Zakuani||1.46|
|4||Obafemi Martins||3.38||4||David Estrada||1.63|
|5||David Estrada||3.43||5||Clint Dempsey||2.21|
Dempsey didn't show up in the top 5 attackers in the dispossessed metric because he actually "led" the team in that category with 4.29 per 90.
Although chance creation is a key component of what makes a CAM successful, the ability to distribute the ball to other chance creators is equally important. A major part of helping keep possession is the passing accuracy. Additionally, the ability to confidently make long, accurate passes can help unlock an opposing defense. In this section, I'm going to look at the number of passes attempted and pass success percentage, in addition to crossing, long balls and through balls.
Attempted Passes and Pass Success Rate
|Rank||Name||Attempted Passes per 90||Rank||Name||Pass Success %|
|1||Adam Moffat||75.5||1||Osvaldo Alonso||88.3%|
|2||Shalrie Joseph||71.6||2||Clint Dempsey||85.8%|
|3||Osvaldo Alonso||69.1||3||Steve Zakuani||83.5%|
|4||Clint Dempsey||61.2||4||Shalrie Joseph||83.2%|
|5||Andy Rose||51.1||5||David Estrada||80.5%|
As you probably noticed, the only other players on the team who attempted more than 50 passes per game are primarily holding midfielders. The league leaders in passing attempts are mostly holding midfielders and box-to-box central midfielders. Dempsey's pass success rate would have been good enough for the top 10 in MLS if had made the minimum number of appearances.
|Rank||Name||Attempted Crosses per 90||Rank||Name||Cross Success % (min. 20 attempts)|
|1||Mauro Rosales||10.43||1||DeAndre Yedlin||29.3%|
|2||Marc Burch||7.93||2||Mauro Rosales||28.6%|
|4||Mario Martinez||6.26||4 (tie)||Mario Martinez||25.7%|
|5||Lamar Neagle||3.51||4 (tie)||Steve Zakuani||25.7%|
Unsurprisingly, Dempsey isn't in the top 5 in either crosses attempted or cross success rate. He attempted 3.3 crosses per game, with a 16.7% success rate.
For the sake of comparing Dempsey with other players in the attacking third, I'm only including attackers in this category. The players who attempt the most long balls are typically goalkeepers, defenders and holding midfielders.
|Rank||Name||Attempted Long Balls per 90||Rank||Name||Long Ball Success %|
|1||Mario Martinez||4.65||1||Clint Dempsey||93.4%|
|2||Clint Dempsey||2.21||2||Eddie Johnson||80.8%|
|3||Steve Zakuani||2.2||3||David Estrada||80%|
|4||Obafemi Martins||1.84||4||Steve Zakuani||66.7%|
|5||Mauro Rosales||1.53||5||Obafemi Martins||63.3%|
|Rank||Name||Attempted Through Balls per 90||Rank||Name||Through Ball Success % (min. 5 attempts)|
|1||Clint Dempsey||0.97||1||Obafemi Martins||62. 5%|
|2||Mauro Rosales||0.79||2||Lamar Neagle||60%|
|3||Shalrie Joseph||0.61||3||Cliint Dempsey||57.1%|
|4||Mario Martinez||0.54||4||Mauro Rosales||47.4%|
|5||Brad Evans||0.51||5||Brad Evans||37.5%|
The numbers seem to suggest that Clint Dempsey did a lot to help the Sounders last season, despite failing to produce the kind of line score numbers fans have grown to expect of him. It could be that the numbers aren't telling the whole story, which is always a risk when seeking to draw conclusions from data. That could mean that he really isn't as good as the numbers suggest, or it could be that the often discussed locker room issues played a role in limited Dempsey's production last season. What I take from it is that the Sounders were unlucky not to score more goals with Dempsey on the pitch than they did and that it is likely that we will see the sort of production out of him that he had at Tottenham and Fulham.