John Nyen spurs a more interesting relationship between Donovan and Dempsey than “foil.”
….or did they?
10 goals in the Barclay’s Premier League and 16 in all competitions: Clint Dempsey
5 assists in 7 games in the Barclay’s Premier League: Landon Donovan
Somehow the scribes write about a rivalry, contrived though it may be.
With Donovan in the BPL temporarily, the recent clash between Fulham and Everton was the first time Donovan had played against Dempsey since the Galaxy played the New England Revolution in 2006 (at which time the Revolution dominated the Galaxy…my how times have changed).
This time, Donovan’s team came out ahead with the winning goal assisted by Landon. However, the rivalry (as a matter of player against player) is really a non-starter for most fans of the US team. There is no animosity between the players any more than there seems to be a passionate friendship. They are simply colleagues, and national team players who are both typically the lightening rod for whatever team they don the uniform.
However, in light of the recent success of the two, a friend asked me…
“Can your next Shin Guardian article be about why Landon to Clint never became the Stockton to Malone of our national team based on the way Deuce is scoring & Donovan is dropping dimes right now?”
This raised the question…
“Are Donovan and Dempsey good together?”
If the answer to that question is yes, than how good? What metric can be employed to analyze the data? I should note that this article is about perception, and the question of what fans see for the national team versus what the players do for their clubs.
Clint Dempsey has scored 24 goals for the USMNT squad since scoring his first goal in a 2- 1 loss to England in May of 2005.
Meanwhile, Landon has been steadily chugging along since his October 25th, 2000 debut against Mexico where he had his first assist and first goal. (Worth noting in the goal totals and games played between the two that Landon made his USA senior team debut five years before Dempsey even though Landon is just one year older).
The 24 goals scored by Dempsey have come in 23 games (*this is not total number of games Clint has played, just the total number he has scored in) with only one multiple goal game ( the 8 – 0 demolition of Barbados where he scored two). Of those 23 games played that Dempsey scored, Clint and Landon played together 20 times, although in the infamous Gold Cup game against Cuba in 2005, Donovan didn’t come into the game until late in the second half after Dempsey had already scored to tie the game at 1-1.
So out of these 20 games played together, in which Clint Dempsey scored, Landon had a hand in nine of his goals, or roughly 45% of the time Dempsey scores… Donovan is involved.
Now the qualification for assists here differs from your natural “Donovan passed to Dempsey and he scored” routine that FIFA would use to assign them. I’ve re-watched every single one of the nine incidents that I think Donovan assisted directly and indirectly to view exactly what happened.
Here is the review:
Example #1: Your typical “one player passes, the other player scores” assist. The example here is the June 22nd, 2011 Game against Panama in which Donovan slid the pass into Dempsey who then scored. Direct assist.
Example #2: The “one player removed” assist or involvement. The example here is the June 7th, 2011 game against Canada in which Donovan played Altidore into the right side of the box in a perfect position. Altidore then passed the ball to Dempsey. This involvement is more akin to a hockey assist. Without Donovan slotting in Altidore, there would be no goal from that play.
Example #3: The involvement in the play assist. The example here is the England World Cup game in which the ball is played in the air to Donovan. He backs into the marking defensive player and jumps for the ball forcing the defensive header that drops to Dempsey who then does all the work and scores. This is a play involvement-type assist. It would never be noted in the game as an assist, however a header there does not fall to Dempsey for the speculative shot. Without Donovan pressing his man, there is no goal in that specific situation from Dempsey.
The first problem with comparing Stockton and Malone to Dempsey and Donovan, is that Dempsey and Donovan have only played 20 games together.
Stockton and Malone played 1,412 regular season games together. Also, the metrics between Basketball and Soccer are inevitably skewed as scoring in Soccer is at a premium whereas in Basketball it is frequent and expected. Having said all that, the estimate for the connection between Stockton and Malone is expected to be somewhere around 50% to 60% of Stockton’s assists, which compares favorably but not scientifically to the Donovan to Dempsey connection.
In Stockton’s best assist game ever (28 assists in the January 15, 1991 game against the San Antonio Spurs) the stats analysis of the day didn’t keep track of how many assists went to Malone, only that Stockton was responsible for 81.8% of the points scored by the team (a Xavi-esque, completed passes number).
So reasonably the stats are going to not allow us to look directly at them for a comparison. Perhaps a better comparison would be some tandems in modern soccer that are directly comparable.
The formula I went about for selecting the examples used are:
#1 Must not have played together on a club team (in this fashion we don’t have familiarity)
#2 One player must be more a facilitator (that scores) the other a scorer (who some times facilitates)
Some famous and more contemporary suggestions given to me from the front office of The Shin Guardian were:
Thierry Henry – Zinedine Zidane
Frank Lampard – Steven Gerrard
Xavi – Iniesta
Diego Forlan – Luis Suarez
The two reviewed were Forlan-Suarez and Lampard-Gerrard.
Henry and Ronaldo were too cast in the mold of “out and out strikers” to be contrasted against Dempsey.
Xavi and Iniesta play with each other on Barcelona and this breeds familiarity, really this is a problem with any examples of the Spanish national team. Also, Zidane and Henry weren’t necessarily a formidable partnership.
The Lampard-Gerrard one intrigues me especially because the prevailing sense is that they do not play well together. Forlan-Suarez example is perhaps the best example as there is a bit of Suarez in Dempsey and a bit of Forlan in Donovan, even down to their success at clubs. Of course the two largest problems with the Suarez/Dempsey connection is the age difference (Suarez is 5 years younger) and the positional difference (Suarez plays more up top for his country than Dempsey). Also, Uruguay has often played both Forlan and Suarez up top as they did in the Copa America. However, Suarez does tend to spend a vast amount of time working through the midfield in a free role much like Dempsey currently does. Based on Suarez position on the field it makes sense then that we can attempt to compare the last year or two of Dempsey’s career where he played more of an advanced role for the US.
So here are the metrics for comparison: The last 10 goals of the scorer (Suarez, Dempsey, Gerrard) that the facilitator (Forlan, Donovan, Lampard) was on the field with them at the same time.
Dempsey and Donovan:
10 goals for Dempsey – 7 involving Donovan
Suarez and Forlan:
10 goals for Suarez – 6 involving Forlan
Gerrard and Lampard:
10 goals for Gerrard – 2 involving Lampard, no direct assist.
Actually, the Lampard/Gerrard thing is interesting as Gerrard actually scored 3 goals AFTER Frank Lampard was subbed out of the game.
Also one of the assists I counted for Lampard involved the Gerrard goal in the USA/England world cup where there was a throw in and Lampard managed to get the ball to Rooney (while falling down/getting hit) before Rooney got the ball to Gerrard for the goal. So, I am being a bit generous here for them.
Note: Unless described in the game report as a direct assist, I watched each and every goal (sometimes multiples times and views) to verify whether there was a direct involvement in the play between the two. My rule was that any more than two touches from the goal was considered not involved.
Looking at these statistics are a bit interesting, because it actually shows that among even elite pairings, Donovan and Dempsey actually have a really fantastic playing relationship. Certainly there are caveats, with the largest ones being a small sample size in both goals and pairings. To be certain, if we extrapolated this to other duos I would think other players would be towards the top of the list. However, the data does show the progressing development of the game of both Donovan and Dempsey, that they are directly involved with one another so much.
There is also an argument that player selection may be helping certain pairings.With Suarez and Forlan, most of their goals have been within the last two years and Suarez scores bucket loads of goals from impossible angles. With Donovan and Dempsey the latest I went back (for 10 goals) was the September 10th 2008 World Cup Qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago. With the Lampard and Gerrard partnership, I had to go back all the way to the 2006 pre-World Cup friendly against Hungary.The argument against Gerrard and Lampard also could be the role of the player as Gerrard and Lampard are far more alike in playing style than Donovan and Dempsey. They both also (in the past) played more of a Box to Box midfielder position, which differs from Donovan/Dempsey.
Total goals were of importance to the ideal as Forlan and Suarez are the two top scoring players (recently) for Uruguay. Donovan and Dempsey are the two top scoring players (recently) for the USA. Other than Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch, Lampard and Gerrard are the third and fourth best Goal Scorers for England.
Certainly I could have picked Wayne Rooney, however while Rooney has had the most goals of the recent call ups, he has been used primarily by Capello as a forward and in looking at the last few years Rooney seemingly doesn’t have a major partnership or comparison player on England. His two goals in the recent Bulgaria/England game were from a Stuart Downing corner and an Ashley Young pass and his goal against Switzerland was the result of clever wing play and exchanges between Glen Johnson and Theo Walcott. An issue of England (not necessarily good or bad) is that they seemingly don’t have a one-two partnership in the midfield.
In going through all these stats one can look at the Donovan and Dempsey partnership as becoming very fruitful, especially in the last two years. As the game of Dempsey has grown to a more free-flowing scoring role and Donovan has morphed into that of a set-up man (from his former goal scoring ways) they have both–in my opinion and review–come together to produce at a high level for the United States.