Clint Dempsey

Seattle Sounders Brave New World

In direct inverse to the 2016 Seattle Sounders, Raving Green, the little blog that could, winds down not with a bang but a whimper.

This blog has been shuffling off to obsolescence these past months. Outside of the Copa America tournament, I’ve written little since April. Aforementioned reasons for putting the blog on the back burner: a basement remodel and new job, both of which were necessitated by my wife and I welcoming our own little Sounders fan into the family, August Bryan Knudson Schaeffer (and believe me, she is a cutie in her Rave Green onesie).

But sadly, I only have few weeks left to write about the 2016 season. In my last Sounders-specific post, waaay back on April 19th, Seattle had just beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1. That got their record up to 2-3-1, a modest 7 points in 6 games but, more importantly, Jordan Morris scored his first MLS goal in that game.

J-Mo. He’s so hot right now.

Though Seattle was enjoying a mini run of 3 straight results with that win against Philly, things would fall apart. Seattle would lose 9 of its next 14 games, culminating in Sigi’s Waterloo at SKC. But what a world the Sounders were in back then. Look at their lineup:

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-12-31-08-amWe were still playing a 4-3-3. Oalex Anderson started. Sheesh.

Though some things stayed the same. Here’s the lineup that beat L.A. in L.A.

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-12-31-42-amIn my April post, I noticed that J-Mo up top opened our offense, especially with Ivanschitz playing wide. That combo is now interim coach Brian Schmetzer’s default (of course with a certain Uruguayan pulling the strings in the center of the pitch).

Back in that post I wondered how the 2016 Sounders would fare and wrote: The key to surviving the marathon MLS season is: health, depth, and focus. Depth and focus, I’ll write about later.

Seattle’s health hasn’t been great. We don’t have too many names on the injury list (KNOCK ON WOOD!), with only Evans nursing a nagging knock (and he should play against Vancouver) and Aaron Kovar out since July (Kovar, sadly, still hasn’t seen the pitch yet. For a long time he was my favorite whipping boy. Whenever I saw him in the lineup I puked a little in my mouth. But in this, the season of our discontent, when he was called upon, Kovar produced. I was really starting to enjoy his development when he broke his clavicle in the Open Cup loss to L.A. Pouring one out), one big name is injured.

Clint Dempsey was the king of Seattle soccer. While scoring a brace in downing the hated Timbers, he capped three straight wins for the reborn Sounders and all looked good in the world. Then, completely unexpectedly, the man’s health took a frightening turn and his 2016 season is over. Missing Deuce hurts. Though aging and curmudgeonly, Deuce is simply the best field player the U.S. has ever produced. The man just scores goals. You don’t replace him. Period. We dropped our first points (and suffered our first loss) of the Schmetzer era without Deuce in the lineup.

If you had told me back on April 19th that we’d be above the redline for the very first time this season, but wouldn’t have Dempsey to close the year, I’d be anxious. Recent run of form aside, I still am anxious. Sure we won our last 3 games. But outside of the miracle in Carson, we only have two gritty 1-0 wins over underwhelming Vancouver and Chicago. Even with J-Mo and Lodeiro, how potent can our attack be?

Whether or not we make the playoffs, whether or not we survive the MLS marathon, we must earn results without Deuce. Hell, we may never see him in Rave Green again. Welcome to the brave new world of Seattle Sounders soccer.

The Case of the Disappearing Clint Dempsey

The Seattle Sounders are in a white-knuckle dogfight to keep their playoffs streak alive as Toronto FC comes to Sodo Saturday. Luckily Seattle is finally getting reinforcements.

Finally Seattle is getting healthy. Ozzie is shaking of the rust and looked dominant in his short appearance. New-signing Andreas Ivanschitz was working with the first team at Starfire. And, most important of all, seldom seen star Clint Dempsey trained in full yesterday. It’s about time we saw our multi-million dollar man back on the pitch.

Dempsey has only played 13 games for the Sounders this sense. 13. And yet he’ still taken a lot of wear and tear for the red, white and blue: the US crest and the MLS logo. Dempsey has played in 10 non-Sounders matchers between the US friendlies, The Gold Cup and the MLS All-Star Joke. Last year, in a World Cup year no less, Dempsey still logged 26 matches with 23 starts for Seattle.

Deuce has missed games for call-ups and suspensions, but the majority of his absences are due to his recent injury. Dempsey has missed the last 7 games after injuring himself in training following our 3-0 loss to Vancouver back on August 1st. I’d love to blame Jurgen for playing Deuce for all 90 minutes in a 6-0 rout of Cuba, and the US Soccer Federation for having a spastic control freak ref the Sounders-Timbers USOC game, but the blame for Dempsey’s recent injury falls squarely on the shoulders of Seattle’s training staff. We rushed an overworked player back to the pitch because we were desperate.

The Gold Cup cast a brutal physical toll of Dempsey. Check out his game log from the competition:

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 9.51.21 PMIncluding our home game against Vancouver, that’s 9 games in 30 days in 9 different cities. Deuce played a game almost every 3 days and then took a cramped flight immediately afterward. Can you say “soft tissue damage”?

Seattle needs to take care of its star. But Jurgen Klinsmann just called him into the US-Brazil game in Foxborough on the 8th. Right as Deuce is getting healthy he may play 3 games in 8 days with 2 cross-country flights. Dempsey should be able to be eased back in to a slowing Seattle schedule. He should be just getting ready to power us into and through the playoffs. We can only hope.

 

A Different Kind of #Dempseywatch

Clint Dempsey’s superb play lately has instituted a different kind of #Dempseywatch. We are all bearing witness to soccer greatness.

Dempsey has earned a point in 10 straight games MLS regular season games going back to last Fall. The last time he didn’t log a goal or an assist was last October against the Vancouver Whitecaps in that deflating 1-nil loss at home that imperiled our run to the Supporters’ Shield. This streak has Dempsey tied for second place in MLS history. Three players (Roy Lassiter, Ronald Cerritos, Mauricio Cienfuegos) had 11-game streaks, but these all happened in the dark ages of the late ‘90s. This Saturday Dempsey has a chance to carve his name in the MLS records book.

Even crazier? Deuce had a point in 8 straight starts going into that skunker Vancouver game, giving him at least a point in 18 of his last 19 games. Bananas.

just two games started where he hasn't logged a point

just two games started where he hasn’t logged a point

Remember when Dempsey couldn’t find the back of the net with a searchlight? When he first transferred to Seattle in August of 2013, he played almost three months before logging his first point, a goal against the L.A. Galaxy. Now he is a man on constant fire. Which is funny considering Deuce has a reputation for being a streaky scorer.

His early MLS returns supported that notion. Last season he started hot, recording at least a point in his first six games – this including the man-on-fire stretch when he had 7 goals and 4 assist in 4 games. Then he was skunked in 7 of his next 9 starts. That is until August 24th against Portland, delicious, when his 18/19 streak began.

We have to admit, Dempsey has become shockingly consistent. It’s getting to be weird when he doesn’t find his name in the box score. Currently Deuce is tied with Kei Kamara for most goals scored with 7, and tied at 2nd in assist with 4.

When you think of the Sounders poetic attack, you usually picture Oba doing pretty things and scoring goals. Most of the narratives around Deuce are about his perceived crankiness. We need a new narrative for the man. His play deserves better. Saturday against a leaky defense, let’s hope for fireworks.

 

Clint Dempsey: Antihero

Clint Dempsey is a polarizing figure. Though the captain of the USMNT and one of the highest-scoring Americans in World Cup history, Dempsey isn’t showered with adulation. The perception exists that Dempsey is a punk and a cheap-shot artist. In the most recent edition of MLS.com’s highly entertaining Instant Reply, Simon Borg builds on that narrative.

First off, we should acknowledge the complex web of perception converging around Dempsey. Since his successful run in the EPL, including the 23-goal season at Fulham and his signing with a top-flight team like Tottenham, and World Cup glory, Dempsey is the biggest star in American soccer. I am not saying the best American player, but the biggest, most recognizable American soccer celebrity. If your NASCAR-loving uncle can name one current member of the USMNT, odds are it’s Deuce, “oh yeah, that guy from the deodorant commercial.”

But Deuce doesn’t act the way we expect our megastars to act. He is no Derek Jeter. He is no Peyton Manning. Hell, he isn’t even a T.O. Dempsey is neither squeaky clean nor a consummate entertainer. We expect our star athletes to fall into a few set categories: Mr. Clean, Mr. Entertainer, Mr. Troubled-But-Talented. Think of any huge sports star from the last couple of years and I can easily pop them into one of the three categories. But not Dempsey. I think that is hard for most Americans to digest.

Dempsey just does his job and does it well. We should respond to that blue-collar ethos, but we don’t recognize it in our megastars. And Deuce is not an easy guy to like. On T.V. he is withdrawn and sullen with the media, and he plays the game pissed. He comes off downright surly. He doesn’t pander, or laugh, or kiss babies or anything.

Back to Simon Borg. In Instant Replay, Borg claims Dempsey takes a couple of cheap shots at NYCFC. The footage is far from conclusive, but Borg is persistent that Dempsey is committing acts that endanger the safety of his opponent. Borg fails to mention that Dempsey’s safety was already being endangered.

Like hockey and baseball, soccer needs to be self-policed. Whether two blue-liners are dropping their gloves or a pitcher is throwing a retaliatory strike, athletes have always followed a rugged code of fairness. The ref can only catch so much, and, especially MLS refs, miss so much. Flopping and thugging become, unfortunately, part of the game. If the ref isn’t watching close enough, a dirty player may try to gain an advantage with a kick-out or a loose elbow at his opponent. The victim of such extracurriculars is expected, within the untold law of the game, to embellish and flop and thus try to gain his own advantage, or, at the very least, force the ref to pay attention.

Dempsey don’t play that. Since his return to MLS, Dempsey has been fouled. A lot. But he is not one to flop. He is, for better or worse, one to retaliate. Everyone remembers his famous cup-check on Toronto FC’s Mark Bloom.

What is forgotten is the context. Toronto made hamburger of the Sounders, fouling Seattle, mostly Deuce, 25 times in that game. The ref didn’t have control of the match and Deuce went a little medieval. It’s not cool to slap a dude’s nuts, but self-policing is part of the game if the refereeing fails.

Already this season Dempsey has had his nuts stomped, his head bonked and his Achilles slashed. The man is a punching bag out on the pitch, and yeah, he gets cranky. In the NYCFC game, on a miniscule pitch, Deuce was a pinball out there, absorbing hits and bouncing around (and took a flailing leg from Ned Grabavoy right before Borg’s first cited incident). Does that justify him acting out? No. But let’s not pretend Deuce is some villain out looking to hurt people. He is just continuing a long-held tradition in sports and America by meting out some frontier justice.

Clint Dempsey On a Cold Streak, or Big Players Play Big in Big Games

Clint Dempsey hasn’t exactly been red hot for the Seattle Sounders lately. One of my favorite clichéd sports axioms is “big players play big in big games.” Dempsey is certainly a big player and the Sounders are playing some of the biggest games in franchise history, so where’s the bigness from Captain America?

Dempsey has only two goals and two assists in his last five games (last month of the regular season plus the first playoff game). That’s not horrible, but it’s not Dempsey. He also has 16 shots in this stretch (simple math here: this averages out to a smidge over 3 per game). Is this normal for Deuce? I looked over his game log from this season to find comparable stats.

Dempsey has not started many stretches of at least five straight games. He is currently on a 7 game start streak, and I only found two other such stretches from this season: he started seven straight games beginning with the comeback against Portland way back on April 5th. He also started five straight games beginning when he returned from World Cup duty on July 13th (coincidentally, also against Portland). In the post-Brazil run, Dempsey had 26 shots in those five games, over 5 per game. And taking the first 5 games after the Portland comeback, Deuce had a whopping 28 shots, nearly 6 per game. Obviously only 16 shots in his last five is well below what we have come to expect from our star forward.

Data without context is just garbage (didn’t I just write a post yesterday about the futility of statistics?). The Sounders just played three defense-first matches in the L.A. series and the away playoff game. Dempsey going all “man on fire” was not nearly as important as earning results. There’s a good chance Sigi told him he had other priorities than just firing away (referee Allen Chapman also limited Dempsey in Frisco. Maybe I am wearing my Rave Green-colored glasses, but what oddly complemented Dallas’s flopping tactic was that Chapman seemed determined to call Clint Dempsey for a foul at every opportunity. Kind of hard to get hot when the ref won’t let you step sideways). Of course Deuce could just be tired. Much was made of this earlier in the season. I, for one, was pissed when he travelled to and started at Chivas USA back in early September and then when he came in down three to New York), as he’s been playing for about eleven months straight now. “Man on fire” can quickly become “man real tired.” Lastly this could just be Deuce being Deuce.

Dempsey has always been a streaky scorer. Check out his career numbers from the EPL and even way back to his Revs days. When he’s hot, he’s hot and when he’s not, he’s not. If Deuce has been on a cold streak for a while now, it reasons to say the heat is coming. Which will make Sigi happy. He said before the playoffs that you need your special players to be special. The Sounders definitely need Deuce more involved.

Doesn’t it feel like any minute now Deuce is gonna go on a tear? When he does, it’ll be perfect timing.

Clint Dempsey: Rested or Rusty?

A familiar face graced Starfire Sports Complex Wednesday as the Seattle Sounders took to the practice pitch. A face that launched a thousand memes: the Deuce face. Clint Dempsey is back training with his club after a much needed rest that coach Sigi Schmid gave him following the win at Chivas USA. on Friday, a, hopefully, rested and ready Clint Dempsey will take the field in Sodo.

Dempsey needed rest and I am glad he got a little. I would’ve preferred he was given the whole time between Colorado and RSL, but maybe Sigi felt he needed to strike a balance between rest and keeping a rhythm. We don’t want Deuce rusty this Friday for the big clash with the Claret and Cobalt.

Sigi told the media last week, “I’ve given him some additional days off here. Clint and I had spoken about it. We establish here’s a place where we can give you five or six days. When you look around the league at a guy like Matt Besler saying ‘man, I’m tired, I need a break’ I think we’re trying to incorporate that and keep our team going at the same time. We gave Clint a break right after the World Cup, I thought that was necessary, and I think we need to give him a little break here.”

Deuce has been inconsistent scoring-wise ever since coming back form Brazil. He’s working and contributing off the ball, but he lacks that crisp final touch. Sure he has always been a streaky scorer, but this is different. You can see him flagging at the tail-end of games. I can really relate to the supporters who said, why the hell did Sigi play Dempsey in the Chivas game? Dempsey is tired, he has said as much, and was clearly less effective for the second half on Carson. The Sounders need him fresh in November.

Seattle has high, high hopes this season and tired superstars don’t factor into that equation. Remember Oba from late last season? Yeah, neither do I. Martins came over tired from Levante, played two seasons straight and was cooked when we needed him most. The same could happen to Dempsey. A few small spells here and there are not what he needed, he needed a major break. The man has been punching the clock since Christmas. Dempsey’s played in Fulham, Seattle, Brazil and back in Seattle this year.

With Seattle’ crap draw in the stretch run of the season, the Sounders need to squeeze every opportunity out of this team. It goes without saying that Deuce is a key component of the attack. We need him fresh and full of piss and vinegar.

MLS and Its Spotty Glory

The Pacific shroud had settled inland and upon Greater Los Angeles. Unseasonably cool in Carson, the few fans zipped their hoodies or downed their beer jackets watching the Seattle Sounders finish yeoman’s work in dispatching an apathetic opponent away on a Wednesday night in front of maybe 400. American soccer totem and Seattle forward Clint Dempsey was the last Sounder spared, coming off the pitch in the 87th minute of a nearly meaningless game. Dempsey has played for big clubs in Europe and around the globe in the World Cup, but tonight he was just sweat-soaked and tired. He raised his hands to applaud his few supporters and clocked out of work.

Last Wednesday’s game in Carson shows what it’s like to be a pro in MLS. The glory is, at best, spotty in American soccer. Dempsey moved from the soccer cradle of the EPL to empty stadiums in the suburbs. The Stubhub Center was abandoned, like other stadiums in retread MLS cities. It’s easy to think how glamorous being a pro athlete would be: money, travel, playing a child’s game for a living, but when you fly week after week to dead arenas and (pardon the sports cliché) “have to get up” for a game against a despondent team in a deserted park midweek… sheesh. They ain’t all Timbers-Sounders kids. Yet. I still believe that soccer has nowhere to go but up in this country. I know this is an easy position to take, but people thought the same thing in 1976 and where did the NASL go? American soccer will survive if MSL focuses on slow, steady growth.

MSL hasn’t guaranteed its long-term future yet. Recent moves, expansion and loosening salary constrictions, are proving strong signs of life, but the league can’t maintain draining clubs such as Chivas. It is like an infection. the more Dempseys and Bradleys we bring in, great press and stories, but we must focus on stable, measurable stats. Attendance numbers have dwindled for the L.A. Galaxy since Beckham left (he was that important) and TFC failed at throwing money around and dissolved into a useless puddle again. These are some big markets with flagship franchises and they are not yet thriving. So slow the roll on your bullish take, MLS needs to focus on cleaning house before inviting more people to the party. The opposite of what it is currently doing in the Southeast, handing out franchises like it’s Halloween.

It’s scary to think how successful an expansion Chivas USA was. Like the Sounders after them, Chivas came out like gangbusters only missing the playoffs in their first year. They qualified for the playoffs four seasons straight, 2006-2009, winning the West in 2007. This franchise used to have All-Stars and Coach of the Years. They used to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League and send players to big-time European clubs (Brad Guzan) and the USMNT (Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan). This was a proud, growing club once upon a time. So don’t ask for whom the bell tolls Orlando and Atlanta, entropy and apathy can happen anywhere. MLS must set their house in order and do the right thing by Chivas USA: find solid, committed owners who’ll keep the team in the West and produce a winning culture. If not, shades of the NASL may arise.

Clint Dempsey Needs a Breather

Clint Dempsey, star of the Seattle Sounders, is many things, but he’s not a robot. The man needs a breather. Luckily, the Sounders get a lull in the action this week. Seattle, for the first time in along time, has a full week to prepare for Saturday’s game against the Colorado Rapids.

Doctors always say it, naps and rest are very good things. Thus much has been made of Dempsey’s being tired, he even said so much himself. If the Sounders have any hope of building on their unprecedented success this season, they need to rest Dempsey. The best time to do so would be next Wednesday’s game at Chivas. Letting him play hooky from Los Angeles would let him not only avoid travel but give the man 12 days off before we play RSL. Nearly two weeks is long enough time to give Deuce a full break, a vacation not just from games, but from training and reporting to Starfire. Let him take multiple days to go home and see his family. Deuce doesn’t just need physical rest for his body, but mental rest as well.

One of the problems with MLS roster building is that often the best players ply their trade overseas in leagues that don’t match our calendar. When signing one of these players, you are getting an overripe product. Obafemi Martins came in last year like a man possessed before tuckering out by the end of the year, and likewise Dempsey arrived to much fanfare, but was (like Tim Cahill and other mid-season transfers) a shell of his best self.

Now Dempsey is looking at entering his ninth straight month of footballing. He was with Fulham in January, the Sounders in March, the USMNT in June and now on the brink of September is still at it. Sure, most of us punch the clock, day in and day out, and are none the worse for wear. But professional athletes have a different sort of job. They don’t show up for X hours to manage X tasks, and leave their worries at the office. Atheletes are building a project, working towards a singular goal, one season at a time. When that project is over (usually in a failing effort– hell only one time enjoys their offseason every year), these men need time to “regen” as coach Sigi Schmid would say.

Deuce has been seriously invested with not only the 2014 Seattle Sounders, but the 2013 Fulham FC, and the 2014 USMNT. He’s been like a contractor juggling jobs and it is hard to serve more than one master. But you and me? We want him most invested with the Sounders this autumn. We want that treble and we can’t do that with a flagging Deuce.

Clint Dempsey is How Important? or Language Determines Reality

Devin Pleuler, a self-described “data scientist”, wrote a recent article on MLSsoccer.com measuring the importance of a player based on the esoteric stat “centrality.” Now first and foremost, I love esoteric stats. One of my favorite philosophers, up there with Schopenhauer and Spinoza, is Ludwig Wittgenstein. My boy Ludwig dropped knowledge on the intersection between life, language and reality. One of my favorite Wittgenstein quotes is, “Language is a part of our organism and no less complicated than it.” As a poet with an idiosyncratic relationship to oral communication, I’ll co-opt any big brains who makes talking funny sound smartypants.

Language is a living thing, growing and changing. I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face, or unemployed as a composition adjunct, that contemporary grammar and syntax rules are fleeting at best, that OMG will soon be a word, and certain apostrophes soon superfluous. Language does not live in the dictionary (or MS Word’s spellcheck algorithms), it only exists between people. We are communicating regardless of whether we are using words found in Webster’s or syntax applauded by Strunk and White; in fact, the usage of new words and syntax actually represents a more faithful approximation to the reality we currently inhabit, not Shakespeare’s or Wilde’s or Updike’s. We live in a world of McGriddle’s and smartphones, of twerking and LMFAO.

The statistical revolution in American sports started by Bill James and continued by Aaron Schatz, among others, is just another new language. In computer science and sports, advanced metrics are getting us closer to something we collectively share called reality. Pleuler, in his article, applies some of these stats to better understand the value of soccer players in MLS:

The more a player sees of the ball, the more important they usually are. This is common sense.

A coach obviously prefers having their stronger players handle the ball more often than their weaker players. But this is not a cut-and-dry rule. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are two of the best players in MLS, but due to differences in positioning they see the ball at significantly different rates.

Dempsey, in matches he has started, has attempted 9.5 percent of Seattle’s overall passes. In contrast, Bradley has attempted a league-leading 16.3 percent of Toronto’s overall attempted passes. This percentile measurement is called “Usage Rate,” and Bradley has been a leader in this category at every stop along his career path.

However, usage rate isn’t perfectly illustrative. It treats every pass between every player exactly the same. One metric that is gaining traction in the soccer analytics community is “Centrality” and its many derivatives. The flavor we will use is “Eigenvector Centrality,” which is a “measure of the influence of a node in a network.” Using the passing networks commonly featured in this series, we can use centrality to calculate just how influential a player’s passes are to their team’s overall ball circulation on a game-by-game basis.

For example, below is the Seattle Sounders network from their 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake this past weekend. Each player’s position is representative of their average touch location through the match. More importantly, the thickness of the lines between players are representative of the volume of passes exchanged between them.

Pleuler takes his time slowly building the pillars of his case and gets you, the reader, invested before bullrushing to his conclusion. This is my problem with the piece.

If you’re gonna have stats-driven analysis, you best earn all those stats. If we are gonna talk using new words, I better be drinking your Kool-Aid, or catching your drift, or down with OPP, see? Numbers don’t work just ‘cause they’re numbers and have some magic pre-imbued in them. Check out the rest of the article at MLSsoccer.com, and tell me if you’re equally confused as to where the hell “expected centrality” comes from?

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