TUKWILA, Wash. — Clint Dempsey has played 70 minutes in the Seattle Sounders’ last six matches, never even getting off the bench in two of of those contests and not even suiting for another. In that time, the club has gone 4-0-2, outscored opponents 9-3, and rallied crucial momentum in the race for the Western Conference playoffs.
The success has been due to a combination of returning World Cup talent, an increased level of play from Nicolas Lodeiro — who noted the additional room he has to work with thanks to Raul Ruidiaz has helped him significantly -- and spirited contributions from players like Victor Rodriguez and Harry Shipp.
With the current run of form, head coach Brian Schmetzer now faces the hard choice of whether or not Dempsey, formerly the league’s highest-paid player and the man tied for the club record for league goals, should be observing the majority of matches from the touchline.
“We’re still working on that,” Schmetzer said Wednesday. “That’s TBD. If we go play with two forwards then there’s another spot there. Everybody has talked about Will (Bruin), but we can’t forget about Clint. It’s TBD. We ran out our standard 4-2-3-1 (against New York City), but there are still some things in the works that we’re going to try.”
After scoring 15 goals and providing five assists in the regular and postseason in 2017, the Sounders would have been foolish not to bring back Clint Dempsey, especially at his reduced salary rate on a one-year deal. The numbers haven’t materialized in 2018, however; Dempsey has scored just one goal (worth a point in a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire) in his 14 appearances for Seattle this year. That is a Nelson Valdez-esque rate of return from the Texas native, who has visibly struggled to keep up with the pace of play in the midfield.
When Bruin subbed on against New York City FC, the team switched into a 4-4-2 formation similar to the style that the club played under Sigi Schmid back when Dempsey and Obafemi Martins left opposing back lines in shambles and gave goal nets friction burns.
Schmetzer liked what he saw from the 4-4-2, but didn’t seem like he had his mind made up about what formation Seattle ought to play.
“It was OK,” Schmetzer said. “It’s got its pluses and minuses. In the 4-4-2 if you don’t drop your forwards or one of the forwards on their number 6 or sometimes when your opponents play with two holding guys, you’re chasing the ball a lot if you can’t control those two guys or that one singular guy. It’s a work in progress, but I was encouraged.”
The issue highlighted by Schmetzer seems to bode ill for Dempsey’s chance for starting minutes. At 35, Dempsey may just not have the motor to contribute on defense the way Schmetzer prefers.
Schmetzer has always praised Dempsey’s competitive nature and his professionalism, as well as his contributions to the club. The coach’s hands may be tied, however, if other, younger players fit better into the overall system that he feels gives the team the best chance to reach the postseason after another slow start.
It is unclear what will happen with Dempsey over the club’s final 13 league matches, but with it looking more and more like 2018 will be the player’s final season in Rave Green, he may have one or two moments of magic left in his arsenal. Just don’t be surprised if you see his performances given a shorter run time.