When certain players stand over a free kick, a buzz starts to build in the stadium. Fans whip out their camera phones in anticipation of catching something special. Photographers rush into position and start clicking wildly. The stadium collectively holds its breath as the player strides toward the ball and prepares to loose his proverbial arrow. The world almost seems to pause for an instant when boot meets ball.
Clint Dempsey is one such player and he delivered one such moment on Tuesday against Club America.
Standing nearly 30 yards out, it seemed ill-advised to go for goal. But go for goal he did. The result could not have been prettier.
Dempsey's kick bent around the wall, curled a solid five yards, nearly scraped the near post and struck the back of the net with exceptional force. It was the kind of kick no goalkeeper in the world has any hope of stopping.
Dempsey would later score another goal, this one far less pretty but counting just the same as he rose over a defender and pounded a header off the turf with just enough force to get it past a diving goalkeeper.
While those were the moments most people were talking about following the Seattle Sounders' 2-2 tie, it would be unfair to define Dempsey's night by them. Yes, they were good goals and Dempsey is, at heart, a goalscorer. Getting him off to a start like this bodes well for him and the Sounders.
But Dempsey has scored lots of great goals for the Sounders and has had better offensive matches. This may not have even been a Top 5 performance solely in that regard. Dempsey didn't take a shot from the run of play and didn't have a single key pass, let alone an assist.
Still, this might have been Dempsey's best overall game. Dempsey not only helped the Sounders keep 54 percent of the possession against one of North America's top teams by completing 33 of 39 passes, he was also active on the defensive side and doing all sorts of little things that help a team win.
Dempsey was ostensibly deployed as the left forward in a three-man set. That didn't stop him from dropping deeper than Osvaldo Alonso to receive the ball at times. He was helping on defense, too, and ended up with seven recoveries.
Dempsey was playing in the midfield more than he was in the attack, often switching with Andreas Ivanschitz. Combined with Joevin Jones' propensity for getting forward, this gave the Sounders more of an unbalanced 3-5-2 look. An action-map like this is not what you should expect to see from Dempsey on most nights, and it's possibly a waste of his prodigious offensive talents, but against a team as talented and dangerous as Club America it was needed.
It also showed another side of Dempsey, one that we saw peeks of toward the end of last year when he shifted back to midfield late in matches. Dempsey is a player who still wants to win more than anything else. This is a player who, for all his accomplishments, still has never won a league or continental championship. He's willing to do what he needs to help make that happen.
If that means trying a little less sh*t and picking his spots a little more selectively, he's proving himself willing. Yes, we'll still see moments when he'll pull off something jaw-dropping -- or hair-pulling -- and there will undoubtedly be stretches when his game is less pragmatic. Even when he's simplifying his game, though, he'll always have that bit of magic in his back pocket, waiting for that chance when all eyes are on him.