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Should you be worried about a Clint Dempsey decline?

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The short answer: No. Dempsey’s production has been remarkably steady over his Sounders career.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Clint Dempsey may be the greatest American soccer player of all time. If he plays through next season, he will have been with the Seattle Sounders longer than at any other club. He will also have a chance to have scored more goals for Seattle than he did for Fulham and could very well retire as the Sounders’ leading scorer, assist man, and playoff scorer. Perhaps with all that said, it isn’t shocking that the team would like to get at least one more year from him.

Dempsey’s age, though, makes us ask the question, should we be worried about decline? It’s a very reasonable question to ask. Dempsey is going to be 35 years old going into 2018. Father Time, after all, remains undefeated and more often than not lands the knockout punch. While acknowledging the possibility of an unexpected upper cut, the data gives very little reason to expect an imminent decline.

Without skipping ahead or googling, match these numbers with the year Dempsey had them (either 2014 or 2017): minutes played (2364 vs. 2395), shots (116 vs. 113), key passes (42 vs. 45), xG (14.41 vs 15.57), xA (4.94 vs. 4.26).

The difference between Dempsey’s greatest year as a Sounder and this year is pretty small. In fact looking at every year he’s been a Sounder, you can see how consistent he’s been.

Clint Dempsey stats by year

Year Minutes Shots Goals xG Key Passes Assists xA Unassisted Percentage
Year Minutes Shots Goals xG Key Passes Assists xA Unassisted Percentage
2013 698 32 1 1.93 11 0 0.96 21.9
2014 2364 113 15 15.57 45 7 4.94 28.3
2015 1819 61 10 9.9 29 9 4.93 32.79
2016 1488 65 8 8.75 22 1 1.96 30.8
2017 2395 116 12 14.41 42 4 4.26 25.9
Clint Dempsey Sounders Stats American Soccer Analysis

This becomes even more apparent when you start looking at his numbers on a per 90 basis. Other than his disappointing numbers after he arrived in 2013, he’s been remarkably steady over his time in Seattle.

Clint Dempsey stas per 90

Year Shots/90 G/90 xG/90 KP/90 A/90 xA/90
Year Shots/90 G/90 xG/90 KP/90 A/90 xA/90
2013 4.13 0.13 0.25 1.42 0 0.12
2014 4.3 0.57 0.59 1.71 0.27 0.19
2015 3.02 0.49 0.49 1.43 0.45 0.24
2016 3.93 0.48 0.53 1.33 0.06 0.12
2017 4.36 0.45 0.54 1.58 0.15 0.16
Clint Dempsey Stats American Soccer Analysis

The Sounders have some of the best numbers crunchers in MLS. They’re surely well aware of this data and likely have even more proprietary numbers to back up whatever decision they make.

Dempsey is eventually going to decline, but 2017 was his second best year with the club and really wasn’t that far off the best. He also played more minutes than he ever had in Seattle and next year should be largely unencumbered by international duty (missing the World Cup will do that). Maybe 2018 is the year father time catches up with him, but the numbers suggest the Sounders are making a pretty good gamble on giving him at least one more year.