Much has been made of Seattle Sounders forward (and occasional midfielder) Clint Dempsey’s partnership with Jordan Morris in 2016, pretty much from the moment that it was obvious that Obafemi Martins would be leaving the club. It meant that the hugely successful Clint-Oba partnership was over, and that the weight immediately fell (perhaps unfairly) on the shoulders of the hyped rookie. It’s taken some time to happen, but after Morris’ two assists that paved the way for Dempsey’s hat-trick against Orlando City, it seems the partnership has finally started to work.
Early in the season, the problem was that the two forwards were having trouble combining and their respective styles of play. Dempsey prefers using technique and passing in small spaces, while Morris prefers to latch onto through balls and make runs in behind the defense. Dempsey said that it’s taken time for his relationship with Morris, and contrasted it with how quickly it was when he and Martins first started playing together. “Me and Oba, from the beginning it felt like we were on the same page. Me and Jordan, I feel like we’re getting there.”
It’s not like Dempsey has been short on praise for Morris this season, but there’s something different about how the veteran talks about the rookie after their excellent outing in Orlando. “[Morris] is becoming a complete player, not just someone who can score goals but someone who can get assists. Look at last game, he could have had 5 assists. He’s coming along great, and his future is looking brighter and brighter.” Head coach Brian Schmetzer was very pleased to hear Dempsey talk so positively about Morris, and praised the “cohesion” that has formed between the pair in recent weeks.
Schmetzer said Dempsey’s first goal in Orlando was a great example of how the two forwards are starting to play better together—which is saying something, because it’s the only goal of the three that Morris didn’t actually assist. “You saw Jordy sprinting to the near post, Clint backed out, Tyrone found him the ball.” Schmetzer says you can’t expect Morris to play with Clint like Martins did, because their styles and skill sets are just too different. “Oba liked to be a little closer to Clint, they liked to pass the ball to each other.” But Schmetzer calls it “exciting” to see such a partnership blossom, because the two players’ different personalities and styles are merging to create something new.
This is all another aspect of Schmetzer’s “smart soccer” philosophy of coaching: pairing the right players together to form a complete team. He says players first have to play well as individuals, but they then must play well with the player they’re paired with in this system. “Jordan’s pair is with Clint, he has to know at all times where Clint is on the field and vice versa, and they work as a pair.” The rest of the team is paired by Schmetzer like so: (1) central midfielders, (2) each fullback and his respective wide midfielder, and (3) center backs. “You get all these pairs working together, and all of a sudden you have a strong team.”