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The Dempsey Conundrum: Promotion or Status Quo?

On the eve of the much-anticipated American Civil War between Everton and Fulham, American soccer fans are relishing the chance to see three of their best players take the pitch at the same time at the highest level of competition.  Other American sports’ fans do not understand the importance of this match: Kobe plays LeBron often (usually on Christmas) and Manning and Brady seem to play every year.  However, U.S. soccer fans for years have settled on seeing their best players either square off in MLS or not face each other competitively, due to playing in different leagues.

When the players take the pitch tomorrow another interesting sidebar will be discussed, and that is why the three best American soccer players are playing in, well, this game.  To put it another way, is this the best American soccer players can do, two clubs that are mid-table at best or, in Fulham’s case, seemingly always in danger of slipping into the relegation zone?  Why isn’t this historic match-up taking place in a Manchester derby or West London derby?  For the Everton U.S. players, the answer is that the chance has already slipped by.  Tim Howard had his time at Manchester United but has really found his place with Everton, a smaller club.  Landon Donovan has gone through a similar situation, except he simply failed to catch on at Bayern Munich and is just now being seen as potentially EPL worthy.

Clint Dempsey is different.  Although not a young prospect, the Texan is hitting his peak and his peak is pretty damn good.  His goal total for 2011-2012 is up there with players who could be considered with the Ballon d’Or, trailing only Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, and Sergio Aguero.  He became the first American to notch a hat trick during an EPL match and it was his second in all competitions this year.  The man scores goals but at age 28 his peak productivity window is closing.  So, should he strike out now while his Q rating is at its highest and make a move to a larger club?  Or is Fulham the best place for him right now?

One man with a large voice in the U.S. Soccer Federation made his opinion known last week.  In the press conference after the Venezuela friendly, Jurgen Klinsmann addressed the Dempsey hat trick and made clear that he wants his players to play at the highest level (audio can be found on the Total Soccer Show podcast).  In essence, he said that he wants to see players like Dempsey play at the highest level of soccer, which is not just the EPL; it is playing for a Champions League contender or, at the very least, a Europa League contender.

Practically speaking this may be a hard task, even if Dempsey desires a move.  While I will leave the analysis of team needs in the Prem to our sister site EPL Talk, I will say that there are few opportunities for consistent playing time in the Top 6 of the EPL, due to congestion at Dempsey’s position and budgetary restrictions.  The best fits may be Tottenham or Arsenal (which the Gunners being the better fit of the two) but even those two London clubs would not potentially give Dempsey consistent playing time.  And that is the biggest negative for Dempsey if he moved to a larger club: playing time.  Right now he has established himself as a fixture in the starting XI for Fulham.  Except for injury or forced rest, he’ll play for The Cottagers.  He will play against the best clubs in England and have a chance to refine his skills at the highest league level, something that will definitely benefit him in international play.  A move would likely impede this playing time as he would not be assured a starting spot in any of the top six clubs.

However, there are two major reasons he should seek a transfer to a larger side (we’ll stick with the EPL for ease of comparison).  The first is the competition would be extremely beneficial to push himself to the next level; it’s one thing to fight off a player below you for time and it’s another to push someone like Andrei Arshavin for a starting spot or first sub off the bench position.  The ability to play with the best players in the world in the best competitions in the world will not only improve Dempsey as a player but really test him for World Cup qualifying.  This is worth the trade-off of a few starting minutes.

There is another, off-the-pitch reason to make this move and Brian Straus nails it completely in his recent article on Dempsey.  Straus quotes an exchange from a recent The Guardian “Football Weekly” podcast when discussing Dempsey’s hat trick:

“Pundits always say, ‘Oh, Clint Dempsey, I always like Clint Dempsey.’ What is it about Clint Dempsey? I think it’s that infectious spirit of, basically, he’s an American, which is quite exciting and glamorous. He’s a rapper, yep. What else we got?” one writer asked.

“He’s got a cool name, Clint Dempsey. He’s just cool. He scores great goals as well,” said another.

“Is he redneck? I asked this before and got accused of all manner — it’s a genuine question!”

While anyone who listens to the podcast knows that it has a sense of humor about itself, the undertone to the exchange is the lack of respect that American soccer players have in larger leagues.  They are at times a sideshow, primarily because in the past when they’ve played for the best clubs, they’ve failed to perform.  An American player should step up and show pundits and soccer fans how far this country has come.  Dempsey is our best shot, and he certainly could fail with a Champions League contender.  But I suspect he won’t, and we’ll never know unless he steps up and grabs the opportunity.

20 Responses to The Dempsey Conundrum: Promotion or Status Quo?

  1. Robert says:

    Dempsey needs to go to another club because Fulham is simply a
    table team and needs to be on a club that contends for
    qualification for Europe.

    • AHart says:

      Dempsey played in a European final for Fulham just two years ago,
      and Fulham were a minute away from qualifying for the later stages
      of the Europa League this year. A bit of consistency between now
      and April and Fulham could nick the last Europa League spot again.
      (That is consistency like the second half against Newcastle not
      like the first)

  2. S04th says:

    We do have a USMNT international starting regularly for a team that
    made the UCL semis last year, is favored to go deep in the Europa
    this year and will most likely be back in the UCL next year. Well,
    he *was* starting regularly before he stomped on that dude at
    least.

  3. Charles says:

    It is very funny, in a tragic way, the way that Euro soccer fans
    have to look at the
    world……………………………………..The number one
    reason Dempsey should want to leave Fulham is they will never
    win…ever. The Euro-losers league championship is the best you can
    hope for. Losing stinks and it is a very unfair playing field where
    he is at and he will always lose there……..Donovan did it right,
    staying competitive, rather than mailing it in ( did anyone see the
    game on Fox Sunday ? oh my word…..), but he was able to make
    money where most can’t ( teams not living off the Man U TV contract
    )…..ps. Where are those guys that told me Donovan was leaving ?

    • Robert says:

      Charles, …

      • Charles says:

        Sorry, I am not supposed to care who wins and loses. I really hope
        he gets picked up by Arsenal, they will come close to winning while
        mailing it in, wasting my Sunday AM. Robert, weren’t you one that
        thought he would leave ?

        • Robert says:

          I’m not sure what you are talking about but yah, I would prefer
          Dempsey to play on a world class club. Dempsey deserves a bigger
          pay day and to play consistently in Champions/Europa league(s).
          Charles, its sad you support a league that caps a player’s earning
          potential.

    • Real Charles says:

      I’m really tired of all you guys doubting me. My logic is
      impenetrable.

  4. Clampdown says:

    Clint has stated his desire to play in the Champions League. I
    actually don’t expect him to move in this transfer window but
    rather in the summer when the CL spots are settled. He has had to
    prove over and over again to new managers at Fulham that he
    deserves to start and be a centerpiece of the squad. He’s at his
    peak right now, as you’ve noted Robert, and I can’t believe a top 4
    club wouldn’t want him. I believe no matter where he goes he’ll be
    a big success. I actually think he’ll produce even more playing
    with better players. I just hope it’s not ManU.

  5. Daniel Nieves says:

    Well, if they ever do sell Tevez which could be a grip of money, I
    would love to see Demps play alongside someone like David Silva and
    then trying to connect with Ballotelli and Aguero. Dang, Man. City
    would start to look like Real Madrid in terms of star power; if
    they don’t already. Of course I may be dreaming with this move.
    Also this move would kind of put him at a different position (less
    scoring opportunities) and could hurt him with national team; as
    our lack of scoring pop with USMNT we kind of depend on our midfld
    to score goals for us. However; I believe Dempsey is good enough to
    adjust to each team and playing with the great players on Man City
    would only make him better. Question is can he get (consistent)
    minutes as article alludes to. Man City, Man U, have strong
    midflds, then again Man U just called back Scholes out of
    retirement. You never know!

    • Robert says:

      I’d rather see Dempsey go to a club like liverpool than MC. I would
      like to see Dempsey play behind Saurez when he gets back. But yah,
      liverpool might not make CL but liverpool is a better club than
      FFC.

  6. Jason says:

    Just to be factually correct: 1) Fulham have played in a Europa
    League final during Dempsey’s tenure. So they already qualify as a
    Europa League contender, yes? 2) Everton have finished 4th and
    qualified for CL during Howard’s tenure. Though, I’ll admit another
    deep EL run for Fulham seems unlikely, and a top 4 finish for
    Everton even more so, given their financial limitations and the
    bags of cash floating around Eastlands and Chelsea.

    • Real Charles says:

      None of which corrects of contradicts anything Robert put in his
      post. And for somebody trying to correct the original post, you got
      one fact really, really wrong.

  7. Real Charles says:

    Nice piece, Robert. I’m not sure about citing Brian Straus, though.
    This is a man that spent X00 words last month butchering a Brad
    Friedel quote so he could give Landon Donovan a virtual BJ. I such
    hope Landon enjoyed it, though it there is one player in this
    country that doesn’t need to be sucked off … I will concede I
    haven’t read the piece, but given what he offered in the Friedel
    piece, it’s going to be more than a good writer’s reference of a
    bad one to convince me he deserves another chance. After all, if I
    wanted to just hear US Soccer’s party line on Donovan, I’d go to
    their website rather than a publication that has a history of
    reporting but recent soccer history of something else. Making your
    reputation of the adoration of Donovan is so 2009.

    • Charles says:

      What ? you should have stopped at nice piece Robert.

      • Real Charles says:

        And we both know where we should have stopped, right Charles? Ah,
        we know my act is old and disingenuous. It’s hard coming up with
        these arguments we don’t really believe in. MLS Talk readers see
        through us know. Which is the new character we’ll adopt? The blind,
        belligerent, ignoramus isn’t having the effect anymore.

  8. The original Tom says:

    Since the discussion has degenerated, I will only comment on the
    original article. He should stay at Fullham unless there is a
    managerial change or a lot of turnover of players in the summer.
    Why move when things are going so well? Only 4 English clubs are in
    the Champions’ League, and their benches are full of good players.
    Of next season’s likely EPL Champions’ League teams, I’d go with
    Tottenham because they seem to have the smallest squad, meaning
    Dempsey would get playing time. If Dempsey is feeling more
    adventurous, he could look beyond England, of course (Netherlands,
    France, etc…). Or, he could look at a Europa League team from
    England. At this point, we have little idea who those will be, but
    both Newcastle and Arsenal seem likely and also don’t have deep
    squads.

    • Terry Becker says:

      Dempsey may be in red hot form now, but he needs to face the
      pressure of putting in consistent performances, match after match.
      Right now, it should be status quo, staying in Fulham and to work
      hard in training and on the pitch. The next step? Become an
      influential player that will make an impact on every game for
      Fulham. If he is able to do that, a Big Club will soon come after,
      knocking on the door.

  9. dan says:

    Dempsey to Spurs. Best fit, guarenteed Champions League, and title
    contenders. He will play a lot since I consider him a step up to
    Lennon, and he can also play in stay of VDV when he is injured.

  10. Dempsey is hot and needs to grow. Even though he is doing well with
    Fulham, he needs to experience more and and step out of the US. US
    teams do not do well over all. The US does not develop its players
    well to compete at a much higher level. Dempsey has done his work
    in the US but now he needs to move on big and better things to keep
    his skill and career moving in the right direction. Continue to
    work hard and training will get him where he needs to be, but
    training with higher quality players will put him a step above the
    rest in the US. Every player who steps on the field should be ready
    and willing to make an impact on every game no matter where they
    are playing. Dempsey is also among one of the players in which kids
    keep their eyes on to see how far he will go. Kids look up to him
    along with other great players, but in the US kids seem to follow
    international players more than US players because their skills are
    beyond those of the US player. If you pay attention to kids soccer
    gear you will see more kids are wearing international players on
    their backs than that of US players. It is simple because
    international players have proven their selves worth and until US
    players can step on the pitch and show that great skill, kids will
    follow the international players.

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