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Clint Dempsey's evolving role for the Sounders in 2016

A game-by-game look at where Clint has played, and how effective he's been.

Seattle Sounders vs. Club America: Photos Mike Russelll

Clint Dempsey was one of the main creators for the Seattle Sounders attack last season, at least when he was healthy and not suspended. He consistently put himself in dangerous positions, made runs that gave his teammates space, and linked up with attackers to exploit defensive weaknesses.

But the Sounders of 2016 look different than last year. Gone is Dempsey's attacking partner Obafemi Martins. And a new formation has been deployed to make use of all the attacking prowess on the team.

How has this impacted Dempsey? Let's take a look at his play game-by-game to see how Clint's role has changed over the course of six games.

Dempsey v. KC

Stats: Shots: 2 (1 OT) | Passes: 28 (85.7%) | Key Passes: 1 | Realio Rating: 6
Team Passes: 396 | Possession: 42%

Dempsey Passes v. KC

Dempsey started on the left at the top of the 4-3-3, and was active early in the match. This game is a difficult one to judge, however, as the Sounders played with 10 after an Oniel Fisher red card in the 41st minute. Clint was therefore asked to take on more of a defensive role this match, as reflected in the chart, and the team maintained just 42 percent of possession. Of Dempsey's 17 passes in the attacking half, just six were forward passes, and none of those forward passes were anywhere near the box.

Dempsey v. RSL

Stats: Shots: 1 (0 OT) | Passes: 31 (83.9%) | Key Passes: 1 | Realio Rating: 6
Team Passes: 372 | Possession: 49%

Dempsey Passes v. RSL

Dempsey again started up top on the left side. Unfortunately, he seemed a little stuck there. Despite the team playing with 11 for the entire 90 minutes, his passing didn't increase significantly -- and neither did the team's. Early on, Dempsey did link up nicely a few times with Joevin Jones, which is reflected in some of the short passing you see in the graphic above. However, Clint struggled to get involved in the attack. With Erik Friberg getting subbed off in the 18th minute due to an injury, Dempsey wasn't getting the kind of service he needed from the midfield.

As Ryan Cowper pointed out in his tactics piece, some of Dempsey's woes were also due to smart man-marking strategies deployed by RSL. This is, indeed, not the same RSL side as last year. In fact, they currently lead the league in points per game.

Dempsey v. Vancouver

Stats: Shots: 9 (0 OT) | Passes: 50 (80%) | Key Passes: 1 | Realio Rating: 6
Team Passes: 524 | Possession: 60%

Dempsey Passes v. Vancouver

Dempsey again started on the left, but he was a lot more involved this match. He had 50 passes, including two crosses and four long-ball attempts -- two of which were successful. Unlike the first few matches, Dempsey's passes were spread across the field, reflecting more significant movement from him. He also got nine shots off, and four of them were right around the penalty spot. Typically, Dempsey would have converted at least one of them, but that's just the way the ball bounced in this match.

Clint made a few bad passing decisions, and didn't finish a few good chances, but he looked more active. You could also sense he was developing better connections with the forwards, and Nelson Valdez in particular.

As the team passing stats indicate, the Sounders dominated possession this match, which also contributed to Dempsey's larger involvement on the offensive end. Seattle had 152 more passes against Vancouver than they did against RSL. However, Kendall Waston and the Vancouver defense effectively closed down the box, forcing the Sounders to attempt 34 crosses. THIRTY-FOUR. Dempsey's pass map reflects that struggle well.

Dempsey v. Montreal

Stats: Shots: 4 (3 OT) | Goals: 1 | Passes: 48 (87.5%) | Key Passes: 1 | Realio Rating: 7
Team Passes: 489 | Possession: 52%

Dempsey Passes v. Montreal

Dempsey scored! This was probably his best performance to-date, goal or no goal. While earlier matches felt like a 4-2-3-1 at times, this is the first match where that formation seemed to stick for the whole 90 minutes, and Dempsey was sitting more centrally behind Valdez. As a result, his distribution started from the middle of the field more often.

Again, he was more involved in the build-up. What this passing chart doesn't quite highlight is that Dempsey dropped back too far into the midfield at the start of the match. He did this despite the fact the Brad Evans was back in the lineup, and Cristian Roldan was starting to play much more effectively alongside Ozzie Alonso. As the game progressed, and the midfield controlled the match, Dempsey began to push higher.

Dempsey v. Houston

Stats: Shots: 5 (1 OT) | Passes: 56 (89.3%) | Key Passes: 0 | Realio Rating: 6
Team Passes: 520 | Possession: 58%

Dempsey Passes v. Houston

What a difference a week makes. Clint again started centrally, although he was extremely quiet this match, and too much of his action was near the center circle. That is not where fans want Dempsey to play. You might look at Dempsey's passing and shot numbers and feel optimistic. However, four of his five shots were from more than 20 yards back. If you take a look at his passing map, you'll notice far too many passes were lateral and the majority of his involvement came around half field.

What the chart doesn't reflect is the number of runs Clint made to try to get open, but his teammates were unable to reward him. This is a big reason he dropped back so far into the midfield, which was frustrating to watch.

Dempsey v. Philadelphia

Stats: Shots: 3 (0 OT) | Passes: 37 (81.1%) | Key Passes: 1 | Realio Rating: 7
Team Passes: 456 | Possession: 48%

Dempsey Passes v. Philadelphia

Look at this passing map! Dempsey again played more centrally, and this time his passes began much further up in the attack. Just nine of his 37 passes occurred on the Sounders defensive half of the field. This appears to be the result of a few factors, the first being that Alonso and Roldan were effectively controlling the midfield. With Roldan taking on more defensive duties, Alonso has been able to advance into the attack more frequently and serve as a link to the front line.

In addition, Dempsey and Andreas Ivanschitz have had more time to figure out when to make runs off one another, when to swap positions, and perhaps most importantly, where players are on the field.

Sounders fans might remember the Dempsey-Martins duo took some time to become the lethal threat it was in 2014 and 2015. And perhaps that is all Dempsey needed this year: time to adjust to the players around him.

It seems as though Dempsey's evolved role is starting to take shape. With him and Ivanschitz learning how to make runs off one another, Jordan Morris finding new ways to exploit space with his speed, and the team using Nelson Valdez more effectively as a lone striker at the top, it feels like the offense is truly coming into its own.

Now, bring on the goals.

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