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Clint Dempsey isn’t the problem

Sounders forward could certainly be better, but the blaming is starting to get out of hand.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In the scope of a single season, 13 games is a pretty big chunk. In fact, it’s nearly 40 percent of the season. So it almost goes without saying that a unbeaten streak that has stretched that long is impressive.

And yet, it’s impossible to shake the sense that the Sounders are in a bit of a rut. If that’s how it seemed following the 1-1 tie with the LA Galaxy, it was even more obvious after Saturday’s scoreless tie at FC Dallas.

That’s despite the very real fact that shutting out Dallas on the road in September when temperatures reached into the 90s is no small feat, no matter the form of the opponent. Whether looking at the schedule when it came out or even a few weeks ago, anyone associated with the Seattle Sounders would happily take a point no questions asked.

At the same time, it’s not hard to figure out why there’s so much angst. While you could talk yourself into seeing positive signs in play in the previous three ties — albeit less so in each successive week — there was nothing particularly encouraging offensively this week.

The Sounders’ 10 shots were fewer than all but one game during this 13-game run and their two shots on goal were their fewest since their last loss. Only three of those shots came from inside the penalty area, and all three were off target and from harsh angles. Repeatedly, we saw Sounders step on the ball or pull it back when there was a chance to break and there wasn’t much seeming interest in speeding up the play.

Add it all up and it’s no wonder most found this game so hard to watch from anything like aesthetic reasons. In other words, it was just ugly.

Clint WYD?

Much of the frustrations over the offense seem to be squarely aimed at Clint Dempsey these days. To the degree he’s the team’s highest paid player and the guy the Sounders rely upon to score when they need it most, I suppose that’s fair.

But the vitriol in some circles is getting to be a bit much. This week there were numerous claims he had simply quit, with some pointing to a sequence in the 94th minute as proof.

As you may remember, Dempsey went up for a header and came down holding his leg. That happened at 93:09. The ball was cleared back to the Sounders’ end and then Nicolas Lodeiro and Kelvin Leerdam worked a bit of magic on the sideline. Leerdam eventually broke into the box, put in a cross that was blocked and the ball came back to where you might have hoped to see a late Dempsey run. That happens at 93:30.

Dempsey, unfortunately, was still down and so wasn’t there. He appeared to stay down for another 5-10 seconds before eventually joining the defense for what turned out to be the final free kick around 94:00. Dempsey ends up having the game’s final touch, with the whistle blowing as he looked to send in one final long pass.

To be clear, I’d rather Dempsey have bounced up once the first ball was cleared and potentially got himself into a dangerous position. But I’m also not really inclined to drag him for not doing that in the 94th minute in a game played in blazing hot conditions.

More broadly, Dempsey was not at his sharpest and hasn’t been for a couple games. He had three decent looks in this one, didn’t put the two best ones on frame and didn’t trouble the goalkeeper much with the other. If the Sounders are going to repeat, he’s got to be better.

But this idea that he’s no longer capable of playing at a high level is pretty hard to take seriously when he’s now four games removed from a six-match stretch that saw him score seven goals and register two assists.

Speaking of Dempsey

I’m not going to sit here and suggest that a relatively simple formation change is going to be the cure-all for the Sounders, but I’ll go on record saying I’d like to see Brian Schmetzer at least try a formation features Dempsey as a No. 9 with Victor Rodriguez and Lodeiro wide. This would allow a three-man midfield of Cristian Roldan, Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson.

Lineupbuilder.com

I don’t think Dempsey’s best spot is as a No. 9, and he’s probably going to drop back more than play as a hold-up, but this formation has some promise. The best feature is to create a bit more space for Rodriguez, Lodeiro and Dempsey to operate without necessarily being on top of each other.

The best part of this formation, though, is pushing Roldan into more of an attacking role. As we saw in the San Jose Earthquakes game, Roldan can thrive in that situation and he’d have even more quality around him than he did last time.

But what about the defense?

You’ll notice all of this criticism is basically about the offense. That’s because there’s not much to complain about defensively. Dallas did get a couple good looks, most notably Mauro Diaz’s open shot from the top of the penalty area in the 19th minute, but generally didn’t look much more dangerous than the Sounders. The Sounders and Dallas COMBINED for a xG of 1.08, easily the lowest in the league this week.

A big part of that was the play of Roman Torres, who has been looking a lot like his old self for the better part of a couple months. Torres had six clearances — more than any of the other three starting center backs in the game — and was generally a rock in the middle of the Sounders defense and was a major part of why Dallas was unable to do much with any of their set pieces.

It’s a bit scary to think what might have been if he hadn’t been allowed to suit up, as would have been the case if not for his red card being rescinded. That’s because Chad Marshall ended up missing the match with a hamstring injury, forcing Gustav Svensson to fill in at center back. If Torres had also been out, we’d have been looking at a center back pairing of Svensson-Tony Alfaro. The last time the Sounders started with that duo was the 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew.

It should also be said that Nouhou had another solid outing. I’m not convinced he’s quite ready to replace Joevin Jones, but that’s more about his ability going forward. Nouhou was stellar defensively, filling up the box score with eight clearances, 10 recoveries, four tackles and two interceptions. His 24 positive defensive actions were one more than even Osvaldo Alonso, who didn’t have a bad himself.

As bad as the offense looked, the defense is once again looking to be championship quality. This was their fifth shutout in their past nine and they’ve not given up more than a goal any of those games.

Quote of the week

“We need to find a way to be a little more dangerous but the fact of the matter is this isn't an easy place to play. That’s a good team. We were able to get a point. You look at a calendar at the beginning of the year and you think you can get a point from a really good team, you take it.” - Brian Schmetzer

Stat of the week

56 - Stefan Frei recorded his 56th career shutout, tying him with Donovan Ricketts for ninth on the all-time list of MLS.

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