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Clint Dempsey’s importance has never been more apparent

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Sounders looked completely lost until Dempsey entered game.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Philadelphia Union Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The fun, apparently, wasn’t meant to last.

As good as the Seattle Sounders looked in their midweek clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps, they were equally as bad in the first half against the Philadelphia Union. The Sounders didn’t take a single shot, rarely looked remotely dangerous and were probably lucky to go into halftime only trailing 1-0.

It wasn’t until the 54th minute, just before Clint Dempsey entered the game, that the Sounders managed to get a shot off.

There were, of course, some mitigating circumstances. The starting lineup was missing four players from the Whitecaps game — and a fifth was playing with a broken arm — this was on short rest and the 1 p.m. local kickoff time (equivalent to 10 a.m. in Seattle) was surely a bit of a shock to the system. The second half, too, was much better as the Sounders were clearly the better team — despite being outscored 1-0 — and were probably a bit unlucky not have grabbed the equalizer.

Still, it was a reminder that for as talented as the Sounders are, their depth has its limits. They’ve shown they can be dangerous without Jordan Morris; they’ve shown they can hold down the midfield without Osvaldo Alonso; their defense can even hold up without one of Chad Marshall or Roman Torres. Once you start stacking up those absences, though, things get a bit dicey.

Learning to Fly

Just in case you needed anymore of a reminder of Dempsey’s importance to this team, just look at how the offense looked before and after he entered. In the 55 minutes before, the Sounders were out shot 10-1. In the 35 minutes after, they out shot the Union 12-5. Dempsey accounted for seven of those shots all by himself and even was credited with the key pass on one more. His best chance came on a beautiful pass from Nicolas Lodeiro, but rather than attempting a first-time header he took it off chest and then fired over the crossbar.

Before Dempsey, the Sounders looked completely punchless and struggled to get the ball out of their end. With him, they were on the front foot and borderline dominant. The only shame was that the Sounders were outscored 1-0 before he entered and 1-0 after.

While it can certainly be argued that the Sounders can upgrade from Dempsey in the offseason, there should be no doubt as to his place in the squad as currently constructed.

Breakdown

When Cristian Roldan went down in a heap following Victor Rodriguez’s goal against the Whitecaps, there was some obvious concern. But after he got up and finished out the game, I was hopeful the injury wasn’t as serious as it first looked.

The truth was apparently somewhere in the middle. Roldan proved he could physically play through whatever pain he’s experiencing, but we also saw a very diminished version of himself against the Union. Turns out, playing with two broken bones in your arm and carrying around a huge cast is pretty hard.

After watching Roldan struggle for most of the afternoon, head coach Brian Schmetzer admitted he was maybe a bit too deferential to his midfielder’s willingness to play. I’ll go a step further, if Roldan hasn’t shown considerable improvement by the time the Sounders return to action on Oct. 15, I’d just as well assume he get some rest.

For me, Roldan has been the Sounders most complete and consistent player all year. There’s no question that ideally he’s on the field. But if he can barely run or use most of the attributes that make him so good, he’s a liability while also putting himself at risk.

Assuming Osvaldo Alonso is still out, the Sounders could roll out a starting lineup that features Gustav Svensson and Jordy Delem at defensive mid and Lodeiro or Rodriguez as the attacking center mid. That would still allow them to keep Dempsey as the No. 9 — where it looks like he’s best suited for now. It’s hardly anything like ideal, but it’s better than the alternative.

You Wreck Me

You’ll notice I didn’t slot Joevin Jones in as the fifth midfielder in that re-shuffled lineup. That’s because I think we’ve seen enough of him there to know that the cost of moving him from left back is significant. For whatever reason, he and Nouhou don’t mesh well on the left side at all and they were particularly frustrating on Sunday.

Individually, both offer tons of tantalizing qualities. Nouhou has come off the bench to prove himself an impact sub. Oddly, though, Jones seems to be a more effective attacking player when he’s allowed to fully roam. Maybe even more than Dempsey coming into the game, the Sounders’ play turned around after Henry Wingo entered for Nouhou.

Not only did Wingo provide more attacking verve than Jones had shown (three key passes in just 30 minutes), but Jones suddenly became more effective as his touches were deeper into the offensive third. Jones was also more active defensively, going from just two defensive actions as a midfielder to 11 as a fullback.

I’m reasonably confident that Nouhou is capable of providing much of what Jones does, but we should be in no rush to force that change sooner than later. More relevantly, the Sounders are much better off giving Jones’ midfielder minutes to someone like Wingo, Lamar Neagle or even Aaron Kovar and keeping him at left back.

Stat of the game

7 — It’s not quite “curse of the whites” level struggles, but the Sounders are now winless in seven games (0-3-4) wearing the Heritage Whites. As great as these tops look, maybe the Sounders need to stick with colored kits.

Quote of the day

“I was much happier with the quality of our play in the second half but the first half we dug a hole. I have to look at myself and see if I can make sure that doesn't happen.” - Schmetzer