Two Perspectives: Two-Faces

How can the USMNT get this guy on the plane to South Africa?

Not to step on Matthew and Shaun’s cleats and their upcoming Lando – Deuce debate, but the “two-face” comment from Antonio in the recent The Deuce Abides! post reminded me of a question TSG asked of both Alexi Lalas and John Harkes last month at ESPN.

The former USMNTers were asked (separately) whether they thought Clint Dempsey’s lackluster post Confederations Cups play for the national team versus his stellar EPL campaign was a result of the lack of quality on the US side when compared to Fulham. It should be noted that when the question was asked to John Harkes, a notorious Dempsey critic, he first responded “Do you really want me to answer that?” as chuckles spread throughout the room. Don’t worry, TSG pressed on.

Surprisingly, the former USMNT teammates gave two completely different answers. John Harkes first noted that from a “player’s perspective,” playing for club is completely different that for country. He then went on to lay most of the blame at the feet of Coach Bob Bradley. Said Harkes,

What is your role? How is that defined? That’s the manager…the manager of the team…Some of the best managers in the world get the best out of every player…they find a way…play to their strengths…you can’t undervalue the tactical alignment of certain players and how they complement each other on the field.

Say what you want about Harkes’ as a commentator in general, but it is hard to argue with the notion that the Dempsey’s seeming On-Off switch might have something to do with coaching and how he is involved in the game plan. Lest you be concerned that Harkes is getting soft on Dempsey he did make certain to point out that Deuce hurts the US on the defensive side of the ball. However, that also helps prove Harkes point that deploying Deuce on the wing doesn’t play to Dempsey’s strengths.

Moving onto Lalas, he first praised Dempsey’s skill and abilities in the box before he came through as the corner man for Bradley when answering the same question. Said Lalas,

Bob Bradley has a way that he wants to play. Rather than build the team around Clint Dempsey he said, “Look if you can’t play that way then there is a problem.” There is no denying his talent….the US team can’t really do that for people…just say do whatever you want…free form.

As you might expect, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle here. Bradley could game-plan better to get Dempsey the ball in an area where he could be dangerous and Deuce could put forth a better effort regardless of where he takes the field. Dempsey reminds me of Shaquille O’Neal (of the early to mid 2000s) in the sense that you need to get him involved early on the offensive end or risk “losing him” on either end due to disinterest. Does this mean that the US attack needs to be built entirely around the Fulham man for the US to be successful in the World Cup? Let’s let Matthew and Shaun debate that one soon.

More from TSG on Dempsey:

The Deuce Abides (01/05/2010)

Do We Have More Insight on Clint? (12/17/2009)

Clint Dempsey Through Marvin Gaye’s Words (08/18/2009)

Primer: What’s Up With Clint? (08/15/2009)


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19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Marmaduke on 2010/01/07 at 6:54 AM

    Nice. I like see those opinions next to each other. Lalas has a point that you can’t cater to every player’s whims, but Dempsey has special talent. This is why I come off as a Landon hater. I don’t deny that he’s our best complete player, I just think there are others who are better at some skills. Mainly, I feel it’s a mistake to focus so much on one guy. I’m sure it hurts Dempsey to be tearing it up in the worlds best league and have to come home to play second fiddle to someone who couldn’t hack it in a lesser league.

    On the flip side, Dempsey should put in the effort even if he is getting dissed. I think he’d be an exception among star players if he could, but it still hurts as a fan to see someone wearing the US jersey look like they don’t care.

    I also like the Shaq analogy.

    Reply

  2. I wonder if the root of the problem is truly as simple as a dichotomy between proper management vs. player disaffection.

    Dempsey has bundles of skill and class, that can’t be taken from him.

    On the other hand, Bob Bradley has produced results at both NCAA and MLS levels. Sometimes I think this is unfairly cheapened because he never coached in a big overseas league.

    I don’t much care for cross-sport metaphors, but writing about this makes me remember this scene from the basketball movie “Hoosiers.”

    In the film, Hickory High coach Norman Dale has taken his kids to South Bend, IN to play in an Indiana State Championship final. He asks one of his players to measure the distance from the free throw line to the goal, and to measure the height of the goal from the floor. Both of the measurements were of course the same as the measurements in their little gym back in Hickory.

    No matter what league, or what country, the penalty area is 18 x 44 yards. The penalty spot is 12 yards from goal. The frame of the goal is 24′ x 8′.

    I think too much is made of the superiority of foreign clubs and players. I think the true thing separating the United States from international success and accolades, is inside their own minds. A culture of American football inferiority has been created, and perhaps some of our lads buy into it. Certainly, our critics do.

    Reply

  3. While we all think Deuce is prone to Deuceyness from time-to-time I think Harkes is onto something. It may not be as simple as Sweatpants not clearly defining Dempsey’s role, but maybe that role is too defined for a player like Dempsey. Sure he doesn’t play defense for the US like he does for Fulham, is that because he’s not trying or because the game plan involves him staying higher up the pitch due to his lack of speed compared to Lanny. And, since our game is based on the counterattack, we need our talisman 30+ yards ahead of ‘Cakes when he receives the ball.

    Lalas has a point, but it seems a bit contrived. Mr. Radical is now claiming that people need to fit the “system”….I always pictured Alexi saying “Damn the man! Fight the power!” not on the other side. I digress. Bob Bradley has been successful but that doesn’t mean he’s the best coach ever, or has all the answers. Give Capello or Pep our squad and will they have some issues putting all the pieces together, absolutely. Maybe not as many issues, but they will have issues.

    And why can’t we tell Dempsey to go do what he wants? We have three midfielders who are willing to fit into the US “System” and Dempsey who tracks back for Fulham where he’s supposedly given more license to do whatever, so why not put 10 of the players into the system and let Dempsey do as he wishes on the right side of midfield. We usually play with two defensive-minded midfielders in the center of the park anyways, so they’re used to providing cover for the flanks. Letting Dempsey run free, or at least tell him to play for country like he does for club does not exclude us from playing to Donovan’s strengths, it just means everyone has to work a little harder to get back.

    Of course, this could all be a moot point and Deuce just doesn’t respect Bobbo and will never play well for him…

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2010/01/07 at 10:59 AM

      Are you suggesting that TSG should start the Free Deuce! campaign? It seemed to work for Feilhaber!

      (I should also mention that over the course of the time with Harkes he suggested that neither Donovan or Dempsey are best deployed on the wings.)

      Reply

      • It couldn’t hurt to start a campaign. If the prior one brought Benny back into the National Team picture, could it possibly elevate Deuce to World Superstar status????

        Interesting that Harkes had that opinion for both Dempsey and Donovan; you should’ve told him to leave the coaching to the masses in the interwebs… For the longest time I thought Donovan was best playing off of a target striker, but he’s really come into his own and shown more consistency and ability to influence a game out on the wing than he ever did as a second forward or CAM.

        Dempsey I would sort of agree with, but then again where do you put him? He seems better suited (technical skill-wise, tactically I haven’t seen enough to make an informed opinion) for the CAM or second forward role than ‘Cakes, but look at what he does for Fulham “out on the wing”. Granted, Fulham’s formation appears to be a 4-3-3 with either Duff & Dempsey alternating as the third forward or if both are bombing forward, Gera drops to one of the wings. Even in Fulham’s psuedo-4-3-3 he’s playing wider than most think is his best position and he’s flourishing.

        Reply

      • Posted by Kevin on 2010/01/07 at 6:19 PM

        I agree with Harkes then. I don’t like Harkes, but I certainly agree with his perspective on Deuce and Lando. Neither one is “best deployed on the wings”, but you have decide who’s playing style is the best for the “system”, as Lalas has mentioned, to really decide playing positions. My cry for an attacking midfielder might be getting a little old now, but I would LOVE to point out that Deuce would be great there. I think that’s…
        1. Where he’s “best deployed”
        2. The best solution and fit for the “system” (vs him on wings or Lando in attacking mid.)

        Bob has done OK, but I can’t emphasize enough how many times he ignores player styles and preferences. I know, as a right back, I can’t stand to stay back, and I love to move forward, but my coach just gets mad at me if I do. Sure I might not be a pro or ever go pro, but styles and prefrences don’t stop impacting your game. It’s just as much mental as physical, and Deuce is not mentally equiped for the wings.

        Reply

    • Posted by Smitty on 2010/01/07 at 12:28 PM

      Nick, you suggest that Sweatpants tells 10 players to play his system, and tell 1 that he has free reign to do whatever he wants? My U-12 Girls would not buy into that plan, nor would any National Team. It is a question of finding the proper place on the pitch to utilize Duece’s talents, but where ever he is placed, he must perform within the framework of the Team, or he’ll need to be subbed. The Team will fall if all 11 are not on the same page.

      Dempsey’s performance in the EPL this year certainly gives him some clout with his teammates, but he needs to use this clout to get the MNT pulling together, behind the Team goals and gameplan. For reference, Dempsey and Donovan can look to how LeBron and Kobe got it done in Beijing.

      Reply

      • I guess I chose the wrong words, I didn’t mean for it to sound like everyone but Deuce has to follow the system. After re-reading my comment, it should’ve read more along the lines of Dempsey’s role on the national team should be a little more less defined. We have 10 guys who play great in the system and one who doesn’t, but we’re hellbent on keeping him in there. So why can’t we tweak his role within the team to get the best out of him?

        I’m in complete agreement that you can’t treat the players too differently or you’ll have mutiny, even at the U-8 levels, and Deuce does need to start putting in 100% regardless of what he’s being asked to do.

        Reply

  4. Posted by Dylan on 2010/01/07 at 9:13 AM

    I am of the Harkes mindset, only in that I think he stuggles with his role on the MNT. He’s not really called upon to do the things he excels at. Stuart Holden fits into Bobs’ “system” much better than Dempsey, while Dempseys’ game is much more matured (IMO), Stu excels because of it. I think and hope, that Dempsey will benefit from the absence of a defined 2nd striker and the emergence of Holden. Bob has already shown that he will put Deuce up into the striker role after making mid-field subs, I hope he is willing to give deuce that free range in the upper part of the pitch, I think he would do great right above Landon. Let Deuce create his own space and he will take alot more shots. He is one of the few if not the only player besides Davies that I’ve seen the willingness to just rip a shot if he sees a chance. This is something we need more of, even if the shots don’t go in, this will create pressure on opposing defences and make them want to close space on deuce when he might not be in the box, which as we all know will just create more space in the back. Also might not be a bad idea to use his success in England against them. They will know what he is capable of and may be more inclined than other nations to collapse on him, freeing landon and Jozy. Somehow I get the feeling that the US will go as far as Deuce can take them this year, he is the x factor for me. Even more so than our back line. If Duece gets going offensively we will see alot less men forward attacking us.

    And I base that on absolutely nothing.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Matt B on 2010/01/07 at 9:28 AM

    I wonder if the travel has something to do with Clint’s national team play. It is no secret that his best form recently was in the Confederations Cup, when he was with the team for an extended period. Right now, Dempsey is the only attacking player we have who is in Europe and actually plays every game. The amount of minutes he plays combined with long trips has to wear on him. I also think that he has played a little better than he has gotten credit for. Clint suffers by comparison to Donovan because he doesn’t have the same speed and style of play, so he looks like he isn’t playing as hard.

    Reply

    • Posted by Timmy on 2010/01/07 at 9:54 AM

      I don’t think it’s the travel so much. IMO, it has more to do with the BIG STAGE. Lately, he seems to lose interest when the US plays the “weaker” countries or in friendly matches. It doesn’t get any bigger than the WC, so I think the Deuce will arrive and play well. (I hope)

      Reply

  6. Posted by Joe on 2010/01/07 at 11:08 AM

    hey Dylan I agree with what you are saying. Right now on the nat team Deuce is locked up out there on the wing, the formation seems to be lacking creativity and Deuce needs to be free to roam around and create. Without the freedom hes just another prisoner of the system and half the time he shows it on the field.

    FREE DEUCE!!

    Reply

  7. Posted by Jake on 2010/01/07 at 11:31 AM

    Why take a guy that plays up top week in and week out for club, plays fantastic at that position, and then put him in the mid field continuously after everyone on the planet can see he does not play as well there??

    I would have to agree with Harkes comment that a big portion of the blame should go to Bradley. What did we see this entire last year with Deuce? He made some mistakes, looked lazy or disinterested, tried to play too fancy when he should have just kept it simple, completely disappeared for long stretches at a time etc… then one of our strikers was pulled and Demps moved up top and what happened? The game changed for us almost every time. He started scoring goals, getting into the game more etc…

    Although I will say in Bradley’s defense that even though Demps was not playing well at midfield, he left him on the pitch for the one reason that Dempsey is one of the few guys that on a dime can turn nothing into a moment of brilliance. All you have to do is watch that shot against Stoke City to prove that.

    Anyway, here we are a summer away from the World Cup and we are looking for a 2nd striker to replace Davies. I just can not imagine why we would not take Dempsey and put him up top, when we have Holden and Torres that are proven good player for their clubs in the midfield. If anything, we should probably be building our strikers around Dempsey and not Josey who has only played average even though he could improve more and more over the next months with Hull. I am sure Bradley is also focusing on speed up top but we just don’t have anyone that can replace the speed of Davies besides Findley and Cunningham of which I am not sure we should go there. Could our only hope now for a trio of strikers be Dempsey, Altidore and let us pray that maybe Eddie Johnson does well at Aris?? Then take from the leftovers – who ever is on form the best for their club by May of this year be our 4th sub.

    Reply

  8. Posted by dude on 2010/01/07 at 12:55 PM

    I think if you let him do what he wants in attack, his instinct is to then come back and defend. If you tell him to just hang out on the wing, he Always gets bored, drifts into the middle and does stupid things. Let him be vicious in the attack, and the adrenaline pretty much tells him to come back and get the ball again. That’s what he’s good at.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Kevin on 2010/01/07 at 6:37 PM

    I want in on the Lando Deuce debate. XD I’m trying to hold back oponions on who we should have built the team around until the debate actually starts, but please try to make it soon.

    Deuce on the wings…no
    Deuce up top… maybe
    Deuce as attacking mid.. if there is a god.

    Oh yeah and yes, you should start a Free Clint Campaign.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/01/07 at 8:34 PM

      Kevin, Shaun and I should be done with the debate (and hopefully Mark can help edit) early next week.

      At that time, we’ll implore everyone to vote for Clint to go Dynamo in a year or two, wink. :>

      Reply

      • Posted by Kevin on 2010/01/10 at 8:35 AM

        hmm… I think Fulham can keep him. I don’t like big egos, and neither does Kinnear, so I don’t see it very realistic. A few years back there was a rumor saying that Benny would be coming, which seemed absurd while DeRo was still there, but I would rather have Benny than Clint. The plus side of Clint would be the option of playing him next to Ching and not having to worry about goals not being scored, but I don’t think Ching will be around after two years, so you still have one striker.

        Reply

  10. Posted by Shane on 2010/01/09 at 12:29 AM

    Robbie rogers has a nice left foot and ICEman can run the right.. Why not put Deuce and LD up top.. Both are our most creative players we have.. We need that up front and I think it will work.. Maybe a 4-4-2 Diamond with LD in the attacking mid role and Deuce/ JZA up front.. Either way I think we have players for the wing other than Deuce/LD..

    p.s. Not to mention DMB heating up in SPL.. when healthy

    Reply

    • Posted by Kevin on 2010/01/10 at 8:39 AM

      I like that formation for the team better, but I think Donovan fits in better at the wing on the current US Roster. I’m still kind of in a toss up between Deuce in attackin mid or striker role. It’s confusing.

      Reply

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