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The Clint Dempsey gambit in Seattle? Mark it under “big failure” so far

Nov 8, 2013, 4:49 PM EDT

Clint Dempsey AP

Let’s start this year: None of this is Clint Dempsey’s fault.

He saw an opportunity to capitalize on success abroad, to bank another big contract before he was too old, and move his wife and children back to the United States, closer to his family and his wife’s family. Once here, the U.S. international did his best – so none of this is meant to criticize Dempsey.

But for the Seattle Sounders this can only be labeled a big swing and miss. So far, at least. There is still plenty of time to reap reward for their swing for the fences … but now the organization is playing from behind on the deal, so to speak.

There is no other way to see it. The organization has done so much right, and has certainly brought energy and emotion to the league in barrels full. Full credit for all that … but they got this one very, very wrong.

For chagrined Seattle Sounders officials, some of this is failure to grasp the laws of unintended consequences. That’s just a misdemeanor offense.

But failure to understand more about the league and how things are won? That’s on them.

The Sounders have never excelled in spending their DP dollars, and here’s more evidence, putting all of their DP dollars once again into the attack. Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales are paid handsomely to generate goals, and they didn’t do enough of it.

Dempsey’s sum total: one goal and one assist in 12 matches.

Add in the inability to do something about the goals falling like Pacific Northwest rain at the other end, and it’s not hard to know why Seattle is sitting around today, wondering where it all went wrong, some major soul-searching ahead – and probably some pretty significant organizational changes.

(MORE: What we learned from Portland’s win Thursday over Seattle)

Dempsey was available, and the club got big eyes. They grabbed him up right fast. And in a way, who could blame Sounders officials for that?

But did they really think that defense was good enough? Because it wasn’t and plenty of us were saying so. In the end it was the worst among Western Conference playoff teams and 9th of 10 post-season teams overall. It was only that good because of heroic screening from the league’s top defensive midfielder, Osvaldo Alonso.

That’s bad roster management, period. The midfield was pretty good, but average at very best if we subtract Alonso. And Rosales as a DP this year was a roster mistake; he just didn’t have the DP chops in 2013.

Rosales played sparingly down the stretch. And in a match the Sounders had to have, Rosales was once again on the bench. Manager Sigi Schmid tried to explain it away in tactical terms, but at some point that’s just silly.

source: Getty Images

Sounders DP Mauro Rosales … played sparingly during the season’s stretch drive and didn’t start Thursday in a match Seattle had to win.

Think about it: In a match where Seattle needed goals, Schmid declined to start his DP attacker, but did start three men (Alonso, Adam Moffat and Shalrie Joseph) whose best position is defensive midfielder. Joseph as a forward? That was a massive reach, a gambit that screamed desperation. Any way you slice it, when your DP attacker is on the bench for a match you absolutely, positively have to win, someone near the top of the food chain has made a mighty mistake.

Beyond that, what did Dempsey’s deal do to the Sounders locker room? Hard to say unless you were in there, but Eddie Johnson was clearly unhappy. And it’s fair to wonder if Alonso was, too? Watching Rosales, Martins and Dempsey make more money while he was so singularly critical to the body of work, that cannot make a man very happy.

In the bigger picture, Seattle has a problem worth exploring: it’s about a certain creeping exceptionalism, this idea that everything is better in Seattle. Because it affects roster choices.

It’s fine if fans want to feel this way, that every player who puts on a Seattle Sounders jersey is a talented individual that every club would kill to have, a player who is top-half or top-quarter in the league pool just … well … just because they play for Seattle. I mean, if the Sounders want him …

Again, the defense wasn’t good enough. The roster needed more balance, and a more objective going-over.

Moving forward, management needs to make better choices, and certainly needs to spend those big DP dollars more wisely.

  1. 76bean - Nov 8, 2013 at 4:59 PM

    I’m really not used to this kind of journalism. It’s refreshing to hear a bit of open criticism.

    I think that we saw the players put in work this season, but tactically, the Sounders were terrible. How do you leave Martins on the bench in a do-or-die match?

    We saw two other teams(HOU, and LAG) go down to a single center back during the match just to get more attacking players on the pitch! Sigi played the wrong way.

    • bgoldn7 - Nov 8, 2013 at 6:07 PM

      What people didn’t yet understand is that Martins (very good player) is a mercenary! Is already thinking of changing the team for more money … This is what happened in 7 teams where he go in the last 8 years …None of the teams have benefited from him … newcastle relegated Birmingham relegated, Rubin kazan and Wolfsburg win the championship the year before he arrived… get Martins and go by middle of ranking … never one of the teams which went Martins did better than when he was not there… look at the Seattle as well …look at Inter,after Martins leave win 5 championship 1 champions League end some cup….all coincidences????? Mmmmmmmmm…
      Even the fact that he have 4 children with 4 different women is shows is heartless!!

      • mkbryant3 - Nov 8, 2013 at 6:27 PM

        Ok, I agree that Martins is not worth the money and didn’t seem fully engaged to say the least. But, hey, let’s stick to soccer and not attack the man’s personal life. His marriages and his family are his business. I think we call this an ad hominem attack.

      • bgoldn7 - Nov 8, 2013 at 10:22 PM

        You’re right, let leave the private life (sorry for that)…but people must know the truth! Here in Nigeria is the fires year he do not play for national team! And guess who won the last Africa Cup?

  2. snoqualmiesounder - Nov 8, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    Sigi Schmid has to bear the brunt of this. This is a team that was poorly constructed, poorly managed and tactically embarrassing to watch. This is the best soccer market in the US and to see that fall apart due to poor management will be sad. We need someone young, with recent playing experience to manage these players. Cobi Jones, I am talking to you. Come to Seattle.

  3. chotoquesada - Nov 8, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    Is Sigi going to read this article?? sure hope so!!

  4. talgrath - Nov 8, 2013 at 5:56 PM

    I don’t think bringing Dempsey in was a mistake, personally. Dempsey doesn’t have more goals this year more or less due to bad luck, in my opinion. He’s put lots of dangerous shots on-frame, at least once a game he seems to get one; it’s just that goalies always seem to come up with the save (often in spectacular fashion). Maybe it’s the fact that he gets so much attention from defenses right now, there’s almost never a time when at least one defender isn’t on him. Maybe next year when the furor dies down he’ll score more.

    Making Rosales a DP seemed smart on paper, but he’s just injured so often that it makes it hard to rely on him the way you want to rely on a DP. I do agree that Alonso should get DP money, but then, perhaps so should Johnson, I think; at the very least they should both get larger contracts.

    As far as the defense, if you eliminate the bizarre end of the season Seattle collapse, you’re left with a not bad at all defense. The sounders have 11 shutouts in the regular season this year, almost 1/3rd of their games. Gspurning’s GAA is 1.27 which is right about average for starters, and again, if you cut out the last seven or so games of the season he’d probably be up towards the top. The back line is generally a fairly talented bunch, Yedlin is already well-known as an up and coming rookie, Hurtado is a solid defender (albeit, he does make occasional mistakes), Gonzalez was having a banner year before injury and “the collapse” and Traore makes excellent tackles. Backups March Burch and Zak Scott are decent enough, although both foul too much for my liking.

    So, taken altogether, we have what should be, on paper, a talented bunch of players with some depth on both offense and defense, a team that pundits (yourself included) have at times this season called the best team in the league. So why the collapse that seemed to make everything just go south?

  5. rphillish - Nov 8, 2013 at 6:42 PM

    The key word here is “so far”. We almost never see a big name come in during the sumer transfer window and really impress. The players just seems to need a full offseason to really get into the rhythm. We saw the same thing with Beckham and Henry even. Aside from all that, Seattle hasn’t made some of the best choices on or off the field, and that really hurt them the last month or two.

  6. godsholytrousers - Nov 8, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    Sigi has got to go. There is no other solution. The problem? Who do you bring in?

    If the race is on for Bob Bradley, then Seattle better get busy dumping Sigi. If they have somebody else in mind, they still need to make a move. The new man will have big decisions on who to keep and who to move.

    Houston need Clint Dempsey way more than Seattle do. Maybe that is the first move.

  7. fakeeee - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    as someone who is constantly unimpressed with mls coverage and its lack of opinion and analysis, this was an amazing read. just wanted to say great work and keep them coming!

  8. swtravis22 - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:26 AM

    The center backs for Seattle have been horrible down the stretch! Inconsistent to say the least. If the back line plays marginal the last several games I think it’s a different story line.

  9. danielofthedale - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Don’t these late August end of the window big European league transfers tend to take till the next season to show fruit. I believe that the first season that Becks, Henry, and Cahill all came their contributions were fairly lack luster. Hard to incorporate a player like that mid season.

  10. enumclaw - Nov 9, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    This analysis is weak… sorry, Steve, but it is.

    The central theme- that the Dempsey-in-Seattle deal is a failure- is just plain wrong. The Dempsey deal can only receive a grade of “incomplete”.

    Davis says that Dempsey was here for 12 games, but that’s a curious number to use. Since Dempsey was signed and available to play (first available on Aug 10th), the Sounders had 17 games.

    But Dempsey only got 651 minutes in 9 appearances. The rest of the time, he was either away on national team duty or hampered by injury. He was not fully match-fit for the first couple of games.

    More importantly, the Sounders’ failure in the latter part of the season was not an issue that stemmed from lack of goals. (Their attack wasn’t good enough, but it wasn’t really the glaring problem.)

    What really killed them was an utter collapse of defense. Across all competitions, the Sounders gave up just 31 goals in the first 34 games of the season. That’s a 0.91 GA average.

    Starting with the game against the Rapids on Oct 5th, the Sounders gave up goals at an amazing rate. They zoomed up to a 2.25 GA average, giving up a staggering 18 goals in just 8 games to end the season.

    And I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how an epic collapse of the defense can be hung on Dempsey. The scribes and pundits are entitled to pat themselves on the back and congratulate their analyses on the Sounders defense; they were right, it was apparently not as good as that 0.91 GA average was indicating; but let’s face it, if your team goes 34 games and only gives up 31 goals, you’re probably going to be thinking “hey, our defense is looking solid here”, aren’t you?

    The Dempsey deal needs a full season to truly be evaluated. Can he deal with the “kick the crap out of the best guy on their team” defense that is so widespread in MLS? Can Sigi (or a new coach) figure out how to integrate and capitalize on Dempsey’s talent?

    Adrian Hanauer has obvious work to do on the defense, which fell apart at the worst possible time. Let’s see what happens back there prior to terming Dempsey a failure.

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