Montreal Impact Preview and the Curious Case of Clint Dempsey

*Update: Dempsey has formally been suspended for two games for “violent conduct.” No other player from last Saturday’s TFC-Sounders game received retroactive discipline.*

Saturday the Sounders continue their Tour of the Eastern Conference (the lesser conference) against Montreal. Montreal is not a good team. Granted we’ve never beaten them (0-2-0), but that’s a short history. Montreal’s backline is decimated by injuries and 2013 leading scorer Marco Di Vaio is still serving a suspension for being downright nasty in the Impact-Dynamo playoff tie.

We have problems of our own though. With no Dempsey (he didn’t travel, but no formal suspension has yet been announced), and maybe no Evans and Marshall, our eleven might look… creative. Sigi said Pineda can’t go more than 60, so maybe we’ll see Andy Rose. Whoever makes the eighteen, I want it to be enough to earn more than a point. I want to win in snowy Arcadia.

My focus for this match is Obafemi Martins. Without Dempsey, I want Oba really involved. I love Obafemi Martins. I was stoked when we signed him. Robbie Keane flipped the script in 2011 when he joined Los Angeles. Every team wanted to go get a Keane. Joe and Adrian got Oba. The man is too good. Oba is the type of player who makes the difference between Open Cups and MLS Cups.

How long will Oba be a Sounder?  I don’t know what drives the man. He has a fascinating sense of interior design and a passion for guns, but he has jumped from team to team. He was certainly eying Turkey this offseason and that bothers me. I don’t want him to unplug or transfer. He works hard and seems to have fun playing in Seattle. I just want to see that translate to goals and stats because I want to keep him here and happy.

We need Oba more involved. In the final third, he’s resorted to waiting for service. But crosses from the flank aren’t going to find his noggin atop that 5’7’’ frame. When he isn’t getting service, too often he drops into the midfield and takes himself out of the play. We need him plugged in more to the run of play. Oba and Dempsey had some fine, fancy interchanges against Toronto. I was really excited he got the assist on Deuce’s goal. It was great to watch them celebrate together. Shockingly, they have now played more minutes together in two games this season than all of last season combined. Of course, that partnership will be on hold for the foreseeable future because…

Clint Dempsey is not-yet-announced-but-probably-because-he-didn’t-travel-with-the-team  suspended. The nut hit, the kick outs, his general brattiness. The Soundersphere is very worked up about this, with some folks rampantly defending Dempsey and others condemning his antics.

The logic being, we don’t pay Dempsey millions, as the face of the franchise, to be a brat. He needs to sell the wholesome and superlative image of “The American Soccer Player.” Thing is… Dempsey don’t play that. Yes, he has a lot of sizzle in his game, but he is a scrapper, a fighter and a chip-on-his-shoulder-holder par excellence. He has a lot of gristle in his game. Some great players play happy, others lazy or driven, Dempsey plays angry. The man is plain pissed out there. He wants to backhand the world.

Considering the blockbuster salary and media reception he received, does he need to be part athlete/part ambassador? Sounders FC Inc. expects that, I’m sure. But everyone who stands in the rain boomboom-clapping just wants goals scored, with a reasonable amount of tact and class. No one wants to cheer for douchebags (which is why I am surprised there are so many Timbers fans), but I don’t want to cheer for the church choir either.

I want to see grit and hustle and heart. I want to see give a shit. Dempsey clearly gives a shit. Which is a relief. One of the many concerns when he returned to MLS was whether he’d lose his famous edge. Dempsey’s edge is still razor sharp, and people are getting tetchy about it.

I am not going to defend his actions, but I do think the context shouldn’t be ignored. Dempsey takes a lot of punishment. The man was fouled six times Saturday (called fouls, there were others). Six fouls suffered by one player is the second most in the league since Dempsey joined last season. He is the most fouled player in MLS.

Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of the USMNT, wants his captain protected, and expressed concern over Dempsey’s treatment in MLS. On one hand Klinsmann is a soccer lifer, stud player and accomplished coach, he knows how the game should be played. He also has a cynical interest in protecting his players. There is a spectrum of truths here, from Deuce being a thug to Deuce getting thugged. MLS needs to do something. 

I am not advocating MLS go all NBA and put force fields around the stars. I hated watching Michael Jordan get away with everything (and, yes, Bryon Russell that was a push off). I do want a beautiful game of soccer however. To achieve that, MLS must better protect all their players equally, from Dempsey to Mark Bloom.

Yes nut hits are bad. But fifty fouls suffered by one team in two weeks?! Dempsey’s suspension reinforces the unpleasant truth that MLS’s style of play is part soccer/part football. It is one thing for the refs (replacement refs at that), to let an overly chippy game develop on the pitch. But with days to parse the action, the league bureaucracy chose to cement MLS’s goon ethos by not retroactively disciplining Jackson or Alvary Rey? Teams like Seattle which try to play soccer (Defoe was fouled exactly once), not kick and tackle, make life much harder on themselves. MLS encourages teams to play like San Jose or SKC.

Until Don Garber realizes that the goon image of the league stunts its international growth, the Sounders will continue to get fouled. Until Dempsey starts popping Paxil, he will continue to get pissed and react. Maybe Sigi needs to scrap his tactics and rebrand the team the Brougham Way Bullies, sign some enforcers to protect Deuce and Oba and let’er rip.

 

  • Mrs. Ravinggreen

    Totally agree that it’s time for Oba to break out in a big way (and by that I mean, just one killer goal would be great). He’s a funny player… he really needs a partner of someone making things happen for him to make something out of, if that makes sense. For stretches of last year, that seemed to be Neagle more than anyone else. Looked like it was starting to be Dempsey last week. Who will it be tomorrow?

    And: Defoe was only fouled ONCE?! That’s incredible. Shows a real difference in the tactics of the two teams, I think!

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