Clint Dempsey made his much-awaited Sounders FC debut against Toronto FC on Saturday. He arrived a bit earlier than expected after Obafemi Martins sustained an ankle knock on a clumsy tackle and played the final 56 minutes in the 2-1 victory at BMO Field.
The substitute appearance provided a first glimpse at the second instance of Dempsey in MLS and satisfied all reasonable expectations. He didn't storm the suspect Reds defense. He didn't stumble around as if he needed to complete the typical preseason walkabouts with his European side. He just tromped around the field like a player capable of dominating it at some point in the future.
Seattle spent a significant, eight-figure sum for exactly that sort of magic. Dempsey possesses the confidence to deliver it in spades. It appears as he strides around the field. It scares opposing defenses. It shows every time he touches the ball. And it strings together the sort of sequences required to buttress the expenditures required to bring him home.
Dempsey conjured one of those influential moments 20 minutes from time. He collected on the edge of the middle third and spun through two defenders to create some space. He twisted and turned around his marker to work the ball from his right to his left. He unleashed a low effort destined for the lower corner before Joe Bendik pushed it around the post.
More and more of those openings will arise when Dempsey establishes working relationships with his teammates and obtains full match fitness. It is not a process that will unfold instantly, though his fee and the pomp and circumstance surrounding his arrival unfairly dictate it. He joins a team in the middle of its season and in the middle of trying to find its footing in the attacking third.
The prospect of injecting Dempsey into a group already including Martins, Eddie Johnson and Mauro Rosales provides a wealth of options. Dempsey's versatility – perhaps best employed as a left-sided player capable of drifting inward at the right times – adds a compelling new piece into the already engaging attacking mix. The quartet of players – if Martins recovers from his knock in short order – must work their way through the inevitable kinks in order to foster the necessary understanding and push Sounders FC forward over the next couple of months.
Dempsey can use that time to feel out how he can exert himself best at this level. He will find the necessary opportunities to thrive, but it will take him a few games to locate them. A measure of patience during these early days – no matter the discussion sparked by his big fee – could prove ultimately worthwhile as Seattle chases its primary objective in December.
Five Points – Week 24
1. Touches of class made all too easy: Landon Donovan and Gonzalo Higuain possess exactly the sort of quality Dempsey plans to supply in Seattle. They have proven time and time again that they operate on a different level than most of their peers. They make difficult moves – Donovan's surging run behind the out-of-sorts FC Dallas line and tidy header for the opening goal in the 3-3 draw in Frisco (more on that bit in a minute) and Higuain's ruthless chip over the adrift Luis Robles in the Crew's 2-0 victory over New York – look simple. And, sometimes, the opposition makes it just a little bit too easy for them to produce yet another example of their enduring skill.
2. Different formation, same results for Real Salt Lake: RSL coach Jason Kreis deployed a 4-3-3 setup in the 1-0 victory over Houston on Saturday night. The shift accommodated his desire to field Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata from the start, but it did not spark the attacking production expected. Alvaro Saborio's bitterly contested penalty shortly before halftime captured the points anyways to keep RSL atop the Western Conference.
“I thought it was OK,” Kreis told reporters after the game. “I think Garcia and Plata worked very hard, I think both of them were in and around some dangerous things in the first half – towards the second half of the first half we were really quite dangerous. Just a little unlucky to not get closer to goal more times, we just took a few too many risks with the ball than I think we needed to. So my biggest complaint on those two players in the first half is I thought they were taking a little few too many risks unnecessarily. The other thing that I think if we’re going to continue forward looking at that we’ve got to get those players moving more, I don’t like them standing on their outside backs and getting themselves marked.”
3. Is Montreal on the slide?: Marco Schällibaum's side incurred a second straight defeat and a third setback in five matches at Toyota Park on Saturday night. Chicago's 2-1 victory in Bridgeview came without Mike Magee and raised questions about the Impact's ability to cope with the squad rotation required to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League. Schällibaum possesses the necessary talent to navigate through this thicket (the extra two games in hand certainly help), but the league results must improve in short order to ensure the recent wobbles do not turn into a lingering concern.
4. Leave it to Bruce Arena to properly capture the moment: “Guys were offside,” Arena told reporters after the assistant referee blew two straightforward offside calls to cost the Galaxy two goals in the stalemate in Frisco. “In professional games you have to assume the linesmen can make those calls. However, I’d still say that on the third goal, you’ve got to do a better job. But, you know, what can you do? This is the state of officiating. It is what it is.“
5. Colorado, Chivas USA serve up a Sunday night special: Those plucky individuals on the East Coast who stuck with this affair until the wee hours on Monday morning received ample entertainment for that life choice. The match offered up three dismissals (including one particularly nasty tackle from Gabriel Farfan), two good goals (including a face-saving header from Martin Rivero) and a point for each side at the end of the peculiar 1-1 draw.