Clint Dempsey’s move to the Seattle Sounders from Tottenham Hotspur was one of the more surprising moves of the summer transfer window. At the eve of last season, the American forward was a major transfer target and was one of the deadline-day dramas as Spurs plucked him away from a seemingly dithering Liverpool. So a player of his caliber and at his perceived peak making a return back to the MLS so soon was largely seen as a backward step in his career.
The 30-year-old forward took over as captain of the USMNT in March this year and was the new team talisman in Landon Donovan’s spell of exile by team-coach Jurgen Klinsmann. For many American supporters, seeing Clint progress in a Europe’s top-flight environment boded well for the national team’s chances of excelling in international tournaments.
Along with Michael Bradley at AS Roma, Jozy Altidore at AZ Alkmaar and Sunderland, Tim Howard at Everton and Jermaine Jones at Schalke 04, Dempsey leads the new guard of experienced cosmopolitan players who can hold their own in the top leagues and extinguish the global presumption that the U.S. will never get anywhere in global game.
Tottenham’s huge turnover of players this summer seemed like it would mean more bench-time for Dempsey if he did stay for the coming season. So he – some would say misguidedly, some would say shrewdly – turned down offers from Everton or Sunderland and opted for Seattle instead.
In his previous season, Dempsey managed 43 appearances at his second Tottenham, scoring 12 goals and six assists. These figures would have seemed respectable if they weren’t put up against his prolific final season at Fulham where he managed 23 goals and six assists. As a result, it seemed as though he was struggling to adjust to his new club and his new role as U.S. captain.
Looking at his Premier League career as a whole shows a much more accurate picture of his talent. Dempsey scored 57 goals after seven seasons in England. This ranks him 60th all time, seventh as a non-European and first as an American.
When a player moves to a league where he then receives a huge reception and becomes the highest paid player in that league, it can hardly be seen as a failure. The capture of Dempsey has been a major statement that the MLS is no longer just a stepping stone for younger players or where stars in their twilight can make one last paycheck.
So far, Dempsey has made five appearances for the Sounders. Three as a starter and two as a substitute. While he hasn’t contributed any goals or assists, 18 shots on goal so far show that it’s not for lack of trying. It would be inaccurate to say that his presence is the reason the Sounders are on a five-game winning streak and are now the top team in the MLS. It would also be unfair to say it’s not a contributing factor.
The Sounders already had the aerial threat of Eddie Johnson (a close friend of Clint) and the mercurial journeyman Obafemi Martins. With these teammates, alongside in-form Lamar Neagle, Mauro Rosales and Brad Evans, Dempsey should see his name on the goals and assists sheets by the end of the season. Given that the level of defending that he is facing now is of lower quality than what he had faced before, his adjustment time to the new setting shouldn’t be much longer.
It will be more comforting for USMNT supporters to think of Dempsey’s transfer less as a downward move in league-level and more as an upward move in the forward’s role in a new team. Dempsey’s best Premier League form came while he was the main focus of the Fulham side, rather than a supporting role that he had at Spurs. At Seattle, he can definitely reclaim this influence and responsibility.
After the MLS post-season, which the Sounders seem well on track to make, Dempsey would be a popular loan acquisition for many European clubs, ensuring he stays sharp and prepared for the now-booked summer in Brazil.