Clint Dempsey's first offseason as a member of the Seattle Sounders will include a two-month loan move to Fulham FC. Is that the right move for Dempsey, or the Sounders?
While Dempsey reuniting with his former English club isn't shocking, we should still question whether it is a move Dempsey should be making in his first full offseason with the Seattle Sounders.
No, questioning the move isn't about fearing burnout for Dempsey. He had a healthy-sized break since the Sounders were bounced out of the playoffs in early November, which helped give the 30-year old star more than enough time to enjoy a proper vacation and even start working toward regaining his fitness.
Where the Dempsey loan can be questioned is in what the loan will prevent Dempsey from doing, which is getting to know his club team during a full preseason together.
Dempsey didn't have a chance to spend a preseason with Seattle when he first arrived last summer. He had to dive right in head first, and the result was a less-than-stellar first half season with the club. Along with showing signs of fatigue from hardly any offseason, Dempsey's timing and understanding with his teammates was just a touch off, and Seattle's attack never did get rolling despite all the weapons on the team's roster.
Dempsey will likely join Fulham for two months, re-joining the Sounders just before the start of the 2014 season. Instead of getting to know his teammates, he will be playing alongside some new faces at Craven Cottage.
Is Dempsey really better off spending two months playing in the Premier League rather than spending a month with the U.S. national team in training camp, followed by a month in preseason with the Sounders? If you ask Jurgen Klinsmann, it is a safe bet he will side with the loan move, but when you consider the roster overhaul the Sounders have undergone already this winter, and the number of new teammates Dempsey will need to get to know in 2014, the decision becomes a bit less clear cut.
For the Sounders, loaning Dempsey means saving some money, as Fulham will cover his salary for the time he is in England. There is also a case to be made that playing at a high level for Fulham will make Dempsey's transition into the new season a smooth one.
Additionally, a January loan was part of the contract Dempsey signed with Seattle, so standing in Dempsey's way and preventing a loan wasn't really something Seattle could do.
One small consolation is that MLS could benefit from a successful Dempsey loan stint. It would provide yet another reminder that playing in MLS doesn't automatically lead to a player losing his form for good (Rafa Marquez's resurgence with Club Leon and the Mexican national team should also help dispel that notion).
What the Sounders can do is pocket the savings Dempsey's loan will provide, and cross their fingers that Dempsey can avoid a serious injury like the torn Achilles David Beckham suffered during a loan stint with AC Milan in 2010 -- an injury that cost him a chance at making the 2010 England World Cup team.
That extreme scenario is one that Seattle officials aren't likely to spend too much time worrying about, but something the Sounders might want to think about is whether Dempsey isn't setting himself up for another late-season fade after a long year of action. A short-term loan to Fulham means Dempsey will be staring at a second straight loaded calendar year, which could mean a tired Dempsey is once again struggling to make his mark late in the MLS season for Seattle.
That's not something the Sounders can really worry about now with Dempsey headed to London. Hopefully it is something the player considered when he made the decision to return to London for another spin. It will certainly be a nostalgic return to Craven Cottage, but it could wind up being a costly reunion if it leaves Seattle with a tired Dempsey when the MLS playoffs roll around in November.