Clint Dempsey likely said his final goodbye to the Craven Cottage faithful on Saturday as he played in the final match of his loan spell with Fulham. He left to return to more pressing matters with the U.S. national team and Seattle Sounders.
The match wasn’t what Dempsey would have hoped for. He missed a clear early chance, and his Cottagers never really got going after that on their way to a 3-1 loss to Chelsea. Dempsey has scored against Chelsea on multiple occasions, but on this, likely his final match for Fulham, Dempsey couldn’t conjure any of the familiar magic. He scored zero goals in a loan stint unlikely to be remembered by Fulham fans, or any of Dempsey’s fans for that matter.
Was Dempsey’s encore turn at Fulham a success? On the surface it may seem like the answer is a simple ‘No’, but the reality depends on your original expectations for the loan. From Fulham’s standpoint, Dempsey’s loan was a disappointment, with zero goals or assists in his seven appearances for the Cottagers. Fulham’s record in Dempsey’s appearances was zero wins, one draw, and six losses.
Those are pretty damning numbers, and any American soccer fans who watched Dempsey play in January and February saw little to make them feel like the loan deal was a success. So how could it be seen as one?
For Dempsey and Seattle, the loan accomplished its main mission: To get Dempsey in shape for the 2014 season while also avoiding any injuries. He appeared in seven total matches, and started in five league games. He faced the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal along the way, in important matches for a team battling relegation. it may not have been pretty to watch for those hoping to see the old goal-scoring Fulham Clint Dempsey, but the high-level competition should help Dempsey hit the ground running as Seattle prepares to kick off a very important season.
Another less clear benefit of Dempsey’s loan is the financial aspect, and how that might be helping the Sounders. MLS teams that generate loan fees for players can use those funds as allocation money. That potential benefit, coupled with salary paid to Dempsey by Fulham, makes allowing Dempsey to go on loan rather than spend preseason with the Sounders a more appealing proposition.
One thing the loan didn't do was ease concerns about Dempsey’s form, which was disappointing in his half season with the Sounders in 2013. The harsh reality is that we haven’t seen Dempsey’s best form since 2012, when he was scoring with regularity for club and country. The Sounders and U.S. national team will be hoping Dempsey’s two months with Fulham will help him regain that form.
For Dempsey, the start of the 2014 MLS season will actually mark the first time since 2012 that he is either ahead of, or even with the fitness level of the team he’s joining. When he joined Tottenham on transfer deadline day in September 2012, he joined a team several weeks into its season, while he had endured a banishment of sorts from disgruntled former Fulham manager Martin Jol. The result was a lone season at White Hart Lane where Dempsey spent the first half playing catch-up, and the second half showing more of his better qualities.
When Dempsey joined the Seattle Sounders last summer, he was trying to play himself into game shape in the middle of the MLS season. He dealt with some injuries, but never could quite find his footing on what was largely a disappointing first half-season in Seattle.
In his loan to Fulham, Dempsey was once again trying to catch up from a fitness standpoint while trying to impress a new coach and teammates. To his credit, Dempsey was able to impress enough in training to keep earning starts, but that didn’t translate to on-field success for him or for Fulham.
That reality won’t matter much for Dempsey if he can hit the ground running in Seattle, and finally start a season ahead of the curve from a fitness standpoint. If Dempsey finds success with the Sounders, as well as a return of his good form when he takes the field for the United States this summer in Brazil, then the Fulham loan will have to be re-evaluated and considered a success.