Once again Monday, it was Liverpool.
And given that Liverpool in some ways now represents the “English” hope as the home country Premiership super club, perhaps it was again appropriate.
And again, the conductor was Clint Dempsey with the symphonic high note on a little flick of his be-cleated baton. This time though, the performance and the standing ovation afterward was much more about the individual than the team.
Clint Dempsey, game winner. Fulham wins, Liverpool laments.
On the 5th day of another month–this one May of 2007–Dempsey poked home a similar goal to Monday’s winner to keep his newly-found Cottager team afloat in the Premiership for another year. (They’ve of course haven’t slipped to those dire straits since.)
December 5th, 2011–more than four years later–saw the American soccer’s favorite Texan swipe the American EPL career goal record (now 37) from his revered former Prem teammate Brian McBride. (Interestingly, it took Dempsey 14 more games to match McBride’s 26)
For a man that continues to score in cinematic ways: comedies, dramas, thrillers, suspenseful endings, it doesn’t quite seem that Dempsey has garnered the respect that taking home an Oscar from The Academy earns an actor in Tinseltown.
It’s hard to see Dempsey one day getting a bar at Craven Cottage with his last-name emblazoned on it like McBride. More immediately, as the January transfer window’s latch begins to unfasten, the lack of Oscar-like respect will probably see Dempsey once again at the heart of rumors–not home mover–convergence.
In fact, if the title-type wasn’t overused by ESPN sister sites too much, the proper headline for for this Dempsey tale may be “That Curious Case of Drew Dempsey.” (The middle name makes the alliteration obviously work better.)
Two years ago, a TSG penned a piece with a decidedly different theme and title (“What’s Going On Clint?“)
Through the prose of Marvin Gaye, there was a stark perplexity to how the squirrely attacker could pop-up like a whack-a-mole for a critical pass or goal, but go absent for long stretches of games.
Indeed for his club team Fulham, through 2009, over 80% of Dempsey’s goals in league play were either scored in the first 20 minutes of the match or the last 20. He wasn’t listening to Michael Jackson and sipping tea in between, but he wasn’t forcing the issue either.
For the US national team–with Landon Donovan firmly installed as first knight–the inconsistency was even more pronounced.
Dempsey appeared to trudge through games, frustrated perhaps at Bob Bradley’s strict system and at his penultimate role in the attack. (Indeed Dempsey would hold a come-to-Jesus pow wow with the former USMNT skipper in South Africa during the Confederation Cup to discuss just that.)
Dempsey didn’t lack talent, he lacked focus if things weren’t going his way. I’ll fight you on that point because it’s true.
Something changed–snapped, sledgehammered–for Dempsey in 2010 though–whether it was the realization and comfort level in his talent, just a step in maturity or…just something.
After he recovered from an injury that almost put his World Cup in doubt, Dempsey had the best Cup of any American, including Landon Donovan. A goal against England.. Near misses against Slovenia, but thrilling in attack. A goal called back against Algeria, but the run that gave Donovan the most explosive sitter in US history. Oodles of possession versus double teams against Ghana and the foul in the box that Donovan converted for the lone US score. Donovan may have gotten the media accolades after World Cup 2010, but it was Dempsey who backboned the process.
Later that year, Clint started out his Premiership campaign in true celebratory form. The Cottager piled up early goals while managing the birth of his second child. The lack of sleep only seemed to fuel his appetite for the attack and Clint had the best campaign of his career.
Indeed a quick look at Dempsey’s shots per game chart illuminates a simple and continual trend since he’s arrived in England. Almost every season since 2006-07l at Fulham his number of shots per game has increased–indeed the trendline is direct and this for a team that can hardly be labeled… “attacking.”
If that trend continues–and the goal to shot ratio remains in range to what it has–then, around the golden age of 30 and assuming good health, Dempsey could flirt with a 20-goal campaign. (Of course, we all know that won’t happen unfortunately.)
But it’s certainly no easy task when you consider that nearly each year Dempsey has had a new coach, a new role or both.
In short, not to mince words, it’s a fairly ridiculously trendline of data points.
All of this begs the question, why does Dempsey appear to be just one rung below being called “elite” in England? Why isn’t he talked about in the same light and capability as a Rafael Van Der Vaart (probably his best player comp in the Prem), Florent Malouda or even a Steven Gerrard.
But the real….hold up, Gerrard?! Malouda?!
Dempsey’s goals per game stands today at .23 for his 161 match career. Gerrard has a little more that double the goal number but only averaged .21 per match throughout his career, took most free kicks and many penalties. Oh and he had a fellow by the name of Xabi Alonso serving up goals on a platter and another technician named Fernando Torres commanding double teams and centerback attention.
So how come it just feels like Deuce can’t get his due? It does, doesn’t it? Does over here. Is it a charisma thing, or Dempsey not having a Twitter account, or xenophobic coverage because his passport has an American seal?
Actually it’s probably two things more subtle and technical.
The first, Dempsey can’t be typecast. Is he a forward? Is he a winger? Is he just a midfielder?
The Fulham man is anything, but prototypical.
Against Tottenham earlier this year, Dempsey brought down the ball on over-the-top outlet passes and dropped off for interchanges with Bobby Zamora. The quick give-and-gos were beyond a nuisance for Tottenham whose central defense got violated all day long. Spurs fans were not so gently reminded that day that Ledley King’s knees are, in fact, already 65 years old.
The game afterward Dempsey was moved back out to the left wing–relied on to make incising jaunts up the left wing (against Sunderland) and relegated–for lack of a better word–to cutting-in for the few clean-up opportunities that could be turned into legitimate chances.
The lack of positional definition makes it hard to compare Dempsey against many players. Call him a forward and his numbers pale in comparison to a Robin Van Persie or more generically a Darren Bent. Call him a midfielder–a #10 even–and Dempsey lacks the assist tally or the needle-threading highlights. In some ways, it probably makes it hard for even front offices to give his name when they are looking to fill a need.
Imagine Harry Rednapp over at White Hart Lane instructing Dan Levy to get him a striker “god dammit.”
The exchange would probably continue….
Levy: “What about the Dempsey guy crosstown?”
Rednapp: “I said a striker goddammit and don’t you dare try to pull another Russian rabbit out of a hat!”
Need a creator in the Premiership and Luka Modric or David Silva come to a mind. You get the picture.
Second for Deuce comes the Cottagers’ team style and his role within it. Role, that’s different from position.
Fulham, by reputation and budget, have never swung the big stick of attacking football in the Premiership. In fact, if you look at the players who have been championed at Fulham over the past decade or so, most of them are noted for their work ethic (McBride, Danny Murphy), bulldoggedness (Andy Johnson), toughness (Steed Malbranque) or for just defending (Edwin Van Der Saar, Brede Hangeland).
Not an attacker in the bunch–and don’t you dare go putting Louis Saha in there.
No frills sort of players who merely get the job done. It’s who Fulham fans celebrate and its how their men get the job done.
Now add in Dempsey to the equation and on a team that doesn’t overwhelm with offensive components or threaten with offensive guile in its take-what-you-can-get, prod-to-the-weakness sort of attack.
In hindsight to the lead-in to the piece Dempsey really can’t be called that conductor, but more the detective seeking out clues and then solving the mystery of how to score against what is usually a better offensive side during the course of the game.
Given Dempsey’s somewhat amorphous “position” and his team’s label not being one of perhaps the most thrilling football, it would appear Dempsey’s talent and record goes undersold.
Heap on that Fulham perennially have one of the lowest team goals-for tallies in the league and that Clint has at best had a healthy Bobby Zamora as his best partner in crime, and one has to wonder just how good Mr. LoneStar might be if he were playing the “false” to Robin Van Persie’s “nine” or running in possession with Luis Suarez camping out in the box and Dirk Kuyt blazing to open forward space from his peripheral vision.
In short, Dempsey would probably have many more opportunities.
He’d have gaudier stats.
He’d get his just accolades and perhaps there would be more deserved whispers of “the next or at least poor man’s Bergkamp” instead of “he’s a nice player.”