Clint Dempsey is a great player but a poor role model as USMNT captain

You’ve heard it by now, but Clint Dempsey lost it again on Tuesday night.

It was the fourth round of the US Open Cup, Seattle Sounders against the Portland Timbers. The game was in extra time, and the Sounders, through both misfortune and misdeed, were down to nine men against Portland’s 11.

The Sounders had just lost another man, midfielder Michael Azira to a straight red card for a stomp on Portland’s diminutive Argentine playmaker Gaston Fernandez. They were down 2-1, and on their way out of the tournament in the most acrimonious of circumstances.

Dempsey had come into the game as a sub with just over 10 minutes to go in regulation, and now, with just over five minutes to go the overtime, he was going postal.

After Azira was shown red, Dempsey ripped the referee’s notebook out of his hands and threw it on the ground. That was good for a yellow card. He then picked it up, and ripped it in half. That was good for red.

The Timbers fans were gleeful. The Sounders fans threw garbage onto the field and at the Portland bench. The neutrals scored Dempsey’s performance 10 for creativity, zero for professionalism.

It wasn’t harmful, but the line between grabbing and tearing up the referee’s notebook and grabbing and tearing up the referee is a thin one. Dempsey, for the record, tried to accomplish the latter feat but was restrained by his teammates.

As much as what Dempsey did is laughable, this is about protecting referees, sportsmanship, and the integrity of the game – especially because this is such a visible case of egregious misconduct.

This isn’t the first time Dempsey has gotten in trouble, though this situation will have the furthest reaching consequences. At this point, we’re used to Dempsey’s snarl, used to his petulance, and used to his sour lack of class. He got into multiple fights in New England. He charged a linesman in 2013 with the Sounders. Last year, he was suspended for two games for a groin-shot on Toronto FC defender Marc Bloom.

He deserves his punishment. He probably should have gotten more, considering his history, or if MLS ever wanted to, you know, follow its own rules.

Dempsey was conspicuously absent from Sounders training on Thursday morning. He won’t apologize. That’s not his style. Instead, Seattle owner Adrian Hanauer handled that task gracefully.

None of this is to say that Dempsey is a demon. He isn’t. He’s a solid guy. But he stepped way, way over the line. The US captain must do better. The Sounders, from Hanauer down to manager Sigi Schmid, have vowed to do better. But this starts with Dempsey.

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