Warm-Up Debate: Dempsey vs. Donovan

TSG, can't you just love us both? Who cares who's Batman and who's Robin?

Donovan vs. Clint Dempsey.

This debate between Shaun and I began some three weeks ago….much has changed, but the content contained herein is sure to spark good debate and follow-up pieces. This column was started and written well before Demps’ injury and during Landon’s début.

So we’ll consider this piece just a warm-up round in what will be a longer debate–with your commentary–on Landon vs. Dempsey. Who’s more vital? Who should a team be built around?

I’m sneaking it in below our weekend piece….


Got this email from Shaun today (01/05), simple and concise.

“It would be fun to do a “Who do you think is the best US outfield player?” piece.

I think its Deuce…if you think its Landon…than game on…we could do a back and forth email piece about it.”

Well Shaun, I’ll gladly accept the challenge here on behalf of Mr. Landon Donovan. While I haven’t really considered personally yet who I think the best player is the debate would be good nonetheless and spawn a larger and perhaps more important question, “Should the USMNT be built more around Clint Dempsey rather than Landon Donovan?” Wowsers!

So, my good friend Shaun, game on:

I’ll defend Landon (in practice only) and you swashbuckle for Clinton Drew.

I’ll go…


Ahem, ahem, this thing on.

Okay Shaun, let me start with an argument I made in this piece right here before getting into credentials or dealing with the “Demps has proven it in the best league” argument–by the way, they tell you as a trial lawyer to address and take away your opponent’s best argument in the opening line. I didn’t take it away, but at least I reduced the thunder. Anywho….

Here’s the argument I made then:

Clint Dempsey, who accounts over 56 shots on goal this year for Fulham (at time of writing), finds his shots. Clint’s talent is a reactionary talent. He fills the gaps in the offense, or defensive vulnerabilities if you prefer, because of his splendid reading of the game. Clint is not so much a creator as a conduit and a  finisher after opportunities are created for him.

Landon, as we know, plays differently. Landon is proactive, seeking to force the action of the game as a means of creating the imbalances that Clint feeds of off.

Is Deuce the Welker, to Donovan's Moss?

It is sort of like with let’s say Wes Welker circa 2006 or something. Welker is a phenomenal player in his own right. But he has/had an easier time because three defensive backs are draped all over Randy Moss. If Moss weren’t there, Welker doesn’t nearly get the under space.

What say you?


Well, I do believe there is a difference between whose a better player, Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan and whom you build a team around.

I believe you build your team around someone who plays Donovan’s position and possesses his qualities but I believe that, when all is said and done, that if i had to choose between the two, I would select Dempsey and here’s why:

The obvious statement mentioned by you is that Deuce has proven himself in a top league and Donovan hasn’t. Hopefully for the USMNT, Landon’s next foray out of the MLS (where he has dominated) with Everton in the EPL will be far more successful than his two stints in Germany where he was regarded at best as surplus to requirements.

He was criticized for running back home in 2006 but, holding his head high, he won many MLS best 11, MVPs and golden boots. He has grown into an inspirational leader for the USMNT and has scored some important goals…BUT….

Landon Donovan shines when things are easy or there is no pressure. When the US played Spain and Brazil, they weren’t expected to win, therefore didn’t have any pressure put on them.

They played magnificently with a freedom and ease missing in their first two games. However, in the do-or-die game against Egypt, it was Dempsey who scored the third and decisive goal that sent them through AND don’t forget that in another important do or die game against Ghana in 2006, with the USMNT needing a win, it was Dempsey who tied the score 1-1 giving the US a chance which they couldn’t capitalize on and ultimately bowed out of the tournament.

The grainy picture makes the moment that much more All-Star...doesn't it?

Dempsey’s most recent performance in Fulhams 3-2 loss against Stoke showed me why he’s the US’s best player. His vision and exquisite pass set up the first for Damien Duff and his second goal, a wonder strike/lob made the game close and he almost added a third.

If it wasn’t for such a woeful display of defending in the first half, Fulham would have easily won the match.

Clint was the definition of  proactive. He didn’t control it the way Kaka controls a game but he used his knowledge of where his teammates and opponents were to carve away at the defense split passes, set up the first goal and when opportunity arose,  and score one for himself. While his teammates were below average, Deuce picked up the slack. He did it in hostile conditions, freezing weather and with little support. He can be an out an out striker or an attacking midfielder. He can score with his head, or with his feet. He can tee up a teammate or score on his own.

Like you said Deuce is reactionary but because he’s so skilled and determined he can react to any situation and should a proactive approach be needed he can offer that as well. He can do it all.

Donovan is a provider but he needs the players around him to finish off what he starts. He can make the killer pass but he needs the intelligent runs and reactionary skills of Dempsey to latch on it and put it away. Its is well-known that Donovan is an excellent spot kick shooter but his two most important ones have both been misses (first and second). Landon is an excellent player and sets up his teammates well but Dempsey does it all, makes his teammates better, scores vital goals and his clutch.

Your turn…


Wow…what are you creating the next off-kilter, over-before-you-know-it phenomenon book. If you do, let me share in the proceeds.

Donovan IS NOT A-Rod...but the man did come through in '09

And why do I feel like you are considering Landon Donovan the Alex Rodriguez of the soccer world (who by the way, came through in this year’s playoffs).

I’m not going to argue that Deuce isn’t a great player. That much is easily true. Every player needs a player like Deuce who can make something out of nothing or after someone else makes something happen.

If I’m distilling your points above, they are, in no particular order:

• Dempsey plays in a better league and has proven his mettle there.

• Donovan has difficulty in the clutch–didn’t see that curveball coming on my side and good point.

• Dempsey’s arsenal of skills eclipses Lando Donificent.

Let’s address them in order:

• Very true…Clint plays in a better a league, no argument there and he’s proven his mettle. However as we’re wont to say it’s about the system: Would Deuce’s gameplay fit in as nicely at say Chelsea, West Ham or Sunderland? Absolutely. Would Deuce’s strengths play to the line-ups of Arsenal? or Manchester United? or Manchester City? Most likely not.

We can’t condemn Landon yet for not hacking in a world league. We know Germany, because of the game play and the predisposition (like Italy) to their own was difficult for him.

What I’m worried about with Landon–and this debate–is that his success in Toffeeland will be directly correlated to goals scored–and we both know that’s not fair.

Yes Clint has proved it on a harder stage, but it’s like Landon has failed.

I’ll throw this one in here. Beyond his MLS penalty kick miss, he’s one of the more prolific when faced with that situation and just the keeper separating him from a score.

• In regards to the clutch. I have difficulty with that counterpoint for a number of reasons. First, let’s go with the fact that–and I’ll locate The Shin Guardian piece that has the data–85% of Clint’s goals has come in the first 15 minutes or last minutes of a game. In short, Demps disappears–as my brother alluded to with his Shaq analogy–if you don’t go to him. That’s not a good thing.

Landon plays 90+ minutes all the time–perhaps he overruns sometimes, but he is always present at the same quality level.

Sure, you call that “not clutch” perhaps but let’s just say that Landon is a gamer and Clinton is half-gamer.

In regards to “the clutch” you present two examples, but there are plenty of plays and times that Landon is clutch outside of PKs–how about say Mexico 2002 or what about San Pedro Sula, October 10th of this year. It was Landon unlocking passes that pushed his team ahead. If you counted PKs as the long “clutchiness” of a player then you would rule out players like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Nicolas Anelka, based upon one and two observations.

In regards to Demps’ “clutchiness”–and mind you I believe this a talent–it was again other’s creation for him in many cases that led to goals. At the front of every header is someone who delivered the service. And the beginning of every 18-yard box scrum, is someone who knocked in a pass.

“Clutchiness”–beyond penalty kicks–needs to be looked at not in isolation, but as the body of the whole work.

• Finally, on the “arsenal of talent”–I think you going to lose this going away….hard.

The indefatigable Donovan...

Landon goes 90+, Landon plays defense, Landon can thread–as TSG has dubbed it–the “Donovan” of a pass.

Lando’s got the free kicks nearly nailed–as well as the crosses. Donovan also has the ability (for over 10 years now) of beating a defender one-on-one. Whether Duece’s game has changed is that he doesn’t break ankles like he used to–he plays a little more hold-up now.

Here’s where Clint beats LD in his quiver of skills. “Feel for the game;” I know this is an intangible….EPL announces have called Clint “lucky” time and time again…but like Dennis Rodman and rebounding, Demps knows where to be for that shot or knock-on pass. He’s in the perfect spot. That’s something you’re born with and it is a skill or expertise…not “lucky.”

Dempsey is more “creative.” And if you or anyone uses’ the word “trickery” I’m going to throw-up in my mouth. He’s creative; he attempts or tries things that others don’t. Sometimes good and sometimes bad (See Honduras game, June, Chicago 2009…and see goal against the United States.)

That’s about it in my book. (..and let me add here this debate is hard because I do love Demps’ game…it’s much more like my own, uh minus a thousand, but you get the point.)

So what I have with Clint still Shaun is an immensely talented player, who disappears from time-to-time, plays adequate or average defense, and needs others’ help sometimes to knock in some goals. I’ll take Landon here.

Let me end with two other pionts here for fodder for your next arguments.

1)  Demps has 6 goals in the campaign this year as does teammate Bobby Zamora. Hmm…Bobby Zamora. I’m not denigrating Deuce, but do you find it odd that his performance has went up this year as Zamora has finally reached some of his potential and Damien Duff has joined the fold. A rising tide lifts all ships and Fulham is playing well.

and non-linearly:

2) Landon is the focal point of his country…the guy who other team’s look to stop–that’s the reality. And Landon still gets it done quite often…I’m not sure that’s clutch or just ability, but the argument counts.

Look what happened in the Confed Cup when they didn’t account for him (when Spain was out partying all night and showed up for the first half with a coffee and aspirin in their hand), the first half was a nightmare with Donovan having a career half. What happened second half, beyond Spain stepping up? Landon always had a defender near him. Always.

In 2006, Landon…was the offense in a system that didn’t even put him in the right position. So let me get this straight Bruce Arena…you have the main U.S. weapon in Landon Donovan who creates through counterattacks and runs from the wing and you line him up in a pseudo CAM role, boot the ball over to McBride (who has to gather against defenders and will never be accused of being Heskey, Crouch, etc.) so that the other teams defense can start collapsing and you lay it off to Donovan now with a minefield of opponents in front of him? Brilliant…..not.

And shall we go back to 2002, because that is the corollary to Deuce’s 2006. (I’ll add here that 2006 Deuce makes my all-time USMNT team at right winghalf….just blame nasty, filthy and fearless he was).

When team’s didn’t account for Landon in 2002 (because they didn’t know about him), he flat-out (Portugal, Mexico) blew them up. Demps didn’t perform similarly in 2006…but again that year was just a mess too.

I’ve rambled long enough…one more go each? Shaun….you still there Shaun?


Well Matt, those are some good points and all strengthened by Donovan’s good start to his EPL loan. Described by The Guardian as having a “classy debut” and given an 8 out of 10 (which is high marks indeed from the stingy Guardian editors), Donovan did not disappoint and hopefully he will grow from this. His display against Arsenal was very different then how he plays for the USMNT in that he had a confined specific role…but more on this in a bit.

I’ll address your points:

1. Landon’s time at Everton WILL NOT be measured by goals scored. He’s not a goal scorer. He does score goals but he will be measured by how well he performs his job, which for the Toffees, will be to provide passes to the forwards, make good runs, all in all make his teammates better and score the occasional goal. All this was nearly achieved today and hopefully it will continue.

2. If you look at the montage of Dempsey at Fulham as well as the clips of the two goals against Stoke City (both above), you will see that Dempsey is much more than a goal poacher and scrambler that feeds off defenses mistakes and well placed knockdowns. He can bring the ball up and create for himself.

In the montage he has several runs with long distance shots, that are goals, hit the woodwork or incredibly well saved by the keeper. He’s also dribbling and taking players on one on one…so i believe he’s still got it.

Yes, he gets a lot of goals by making intelligent runs, headers from corners or crosses or just being in the right place at the right time. That is something you cannot teach and is a rare gift – BUT his pass to set up Duff is the sort of pass that you love so much that you dub the “Donovan”. His goal against Liverpool in 07 has him collect the ball, dribble a couple of players, slot a beautiful defense splitting pass to an oncoming team-mate and then running onto the return pass to score the goal to save Fulham’s season.

3. It is true that left unguarded, Donovan can wreak havoc on opposing teams, but please step up to the plate Spain and Egypt. Against Brazil he had a great first half as did the rest of team, but in the second half when Brazil played him tighter, he disappeared. Gone was any of his creativity, killer passes, great defense and for the most part leadership. Sure you can blame Bradley for trying to “hold on” for the win or Brazil being Brazil, but Donovan, the play maker, the face of the team, the one you build your team around disappeared and so did the US’s chances of winning a major trophy.

Dempsey is becoming a better and better player with each season he plays in the EPL. Not only is his goal tally going up but so are his assists. Yes, he now has better team mates, but he’s becoming more and more of a marked man as opposing managers realize what a threat he is, yet his importance to the team increases as he scores more goals and creates more for his team mates. When going gets tough as in the recent Stoke game, Deuce brings it!

As far as being proactive and an offensive force, Donovan is good but I argue Dempsey could be better. As I’ve mentioned Donovan’s best qualities are his pace, dribbling, work rate and wonderful passing with a decent shot thrown in. These are perfect for a speedy winger forward type. He can take on defenders and send in balls for Jozy or Deuce or anyone else to bang home. Should need be he can track back and defend up on high – be the first form of defense and use his good tackling etc… to get the breakaway as defenders bring the ball up. This is why I think he will be successful for Everton, doing the stuff he did today is exactly what they need.

Dempsey, a Gerrard? I'll bite Shaun, but I'm not a huge Gerrard fan....

I see the national team/club team roles between Steven Gerrard and Clint Dempsey as very similar.

They both seem to get a little lost for their national team but often pop up at vital times

Both play more central, important roles for their clubs and are far more influential. Dempsey is always at the right place at the right time. Dempsey can score with his head or with his feet. He can take on people one on one, he can shoot from outside the box, he can set up team mates, tee them or send in the “Donovan” pass. His passable defense can also be the first form of defense helping Donovan contain the ball in the opposing half BUT he knows he’s not a defender and therefore does not get in their way and is ready to mount an attack, head in a goal or take on defenders when he’s called upon.

These qualities as well as grit and toughness are perfect for a CAM/striker/general who can control the game. At his disposal is a young talented striker in Altidore and a speedy, gifted, smooth passing winger in Donovan as well as anyone else that goes forward.

I would like to point out that the initial debate is who is the better player, but has morphed into who should the USMNT be built around – obviously very different questions. I think the former argument is Dempsey and if the USMNT is to be the best it can be then I believe you chose Deuce as your focal point. Put the best players where they can do the most damage. Donovan can do so much more on the wing than Dempsey can do and Dempsey can more than replace Landon as the CAM/striker. This is why if I had to choose between Donovan or Dempsey I take the latter.

Back to you Matt.

Matt: And this is Matthew commenting here very early in the morning on January 29th….I goofed on the goal evaluation of Donovan though he knocked in another this week….

….I’m going to leave this debate for now and let our bad-ass commentary section have it…then you and I Shaun, we’ll present an outline, yes an outline, for our next debate and have our community vote on what we focus on….

Good work….for now…

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/01/29 at 2:50 PM

    I think one thing you both omitted is the “predictabilty” factor. I believe that Dempsey is less predictable and has that certain je ne sais quoi about him. He can be a match winner on his day, no doubt about that. But, how can you attempt to build a team around such a loose canon who drifts in and out of games? Surely in this case, it would have to been Donovan? One might counter that because he is predictable, it is easier to defend and prepare against. However, I challenge anybody to have somebody like Donovan running at you with pace in the final third -he’s frightening, you will need to change your underwear. His pace will create opportunities for himself and his teammates.

    Winner: Donovan


  2. Posted by Siege on 2010/01/29 at 3:26 PM

    I don’t think it’s necessary for the team to be built around one or the other. There’s 11 players on the pitch. Do you really believe the LB’s gameplay changes or the RB’s gameplay depending on whether the ball is fed to Donovan or Dempsey. Maybe what I’m getting at here is how does the USMNT’s approach to a game change if it is focused more on Dempsey or on Donovan?

    Is it possible to say that the two players styles on the pitch do not deter from one another but actually enhance each others gameplay (i.e. the welker/moss analogy)? Donovan should not be constrained to what Dempsey is doing nor do I think that Dempsey should be constrained to what Donovan is doing. If you have a creator and a finisher it’s like yin and yang. The team doesn’t need to focus on one or the other as long as the whole team is focused on supporting the two equally. The US will go no where if either one of these players doesn’t show up at the whistle.

    From a spectators stand point I have one more thing to add although I don’t necessary know how to apply it what’s already eben said. I am awful at recalling specific moments however I will say that when I see Dempsey score, it’s kinda like GAME ON. All doubts, all fears, all concerns are suddenly gone. He’s THAT kind of player. With Donovan… it’s almost always expected he’ll be the guy with a touch in the play. Again, maybe what I’m getting at here is that the US is its most dynamic when defenses have to account for both playmakers, regardless of who actually slots it in the net.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/01/29 at 3:30 PM

      Excellent points Siege — and welcome to TSG.

      The debate is just a fun and spirited one more than a technical one. I would respond to your comments by saying, it’s great to have two offensive players that can score in very different ways.

      On your point on Dempsey’s scores–I concur — that’s a strong for Shaun for next time for sure.


  3. The point that Donovan brings it for 90+ minutes all the time, and Dempsey ghosts in and out of games is not 100% true. Donovan has had trouble for the national team, in the past, making himself relevant in big-ish games. Take September 2005 against Mexico (2-0 to the US for the Germany 06 berth), Donovan was non-existant, and there are countless other examples that I can’t drudge up from my memory right now. Matthew – you could argue that he was being improperly utilized by Bababooey, but then Deuce ghosting in and out of games under Bradley has to be viewed in the same light; his late game talleys almost always come from being moved centrally and farther up the pitch in the waning moments of a game.

    Another head-scratcher…Dempsey usually lines up on the right side of Fulham’s midfield, which is similar enough to the US midfield in most games (flat with a holding and a destroyer midfielder), but for some reason he’s more active and plays 10x better for the Cottagers, even playing some tenacious defense. I think Sweatpants needs to relax the reins for Clint and we’ll get the same Dempsey that shows up in the EPL.

    To add my two cents to the argument: I think you make ‘Cakes the focal point of the offense, since we’re a counter-attacking team by nature. His talents and abilities play into the system much better. That being said, Dempsey should be given more freedom to find the spaces to exploit instead of being told where to go and when to be there (is it just me or does it seem like Sweatpants is using the U-6 coaching methodology with Dempsey?).


  4. Posted by Berg on 2010/01/29 at 4:52 PM

    I’m going to over-simplify my thoughts as its been a very long day.

    Landon Donovan is a foundational guy. He allows others to build on what he brings, he enables better play from those around him.

    Landon = Cake

    Dempsey is that little something extra guy. With a sometimes uncanny knack for being right place/right time (way to often for “luck”), he can be the finishing touch.

    Dempsey = Icing

    If I had to chose just one to be in the game? For me, you gotta start with the cake. Luckily, it looks like we don’t have to go without the Demps Icing. With maybe some “Stu Holden Sprinkles” on top. Too much with the food analogy? Anyways, great points by both parties.


  5. Posted by Evan on 2010/01/30 at 2:22 AM

    I just want to point out a few things, I watch somewhere between 50-75 MLS games each year and I have watched the majority of both of their MLS careers and would just like to point out a few things. Donovan is 3-1 in MLS Cups with 3 goals scored and is also the career MLS playoff goal leader. Dempsey played in 2 MLS Cups and did essentially nothing with his side coming up with 1 goal in 240+ minutes (both went to extra time). Donovan’s Galaxy also beat the New England Revolution in the 2005 cup. I am not saying who is better now because most of this took place a long while ago, Clint Dempsey 2010 is much better then 2005. Last thing, in the entire time that I have been watching soccer (since 2004) I have never seen one player score on so many diving headers like Clint has. This man has balls and that is why I own two Dempsey jerseys and zero Donovan jerseys.


  6. Posted by KL on 2010/01/30 at 5:55 PM

    Before I post this opinion, let me confess that I have not read absolutely everything therefore, if I restate please excuse it.

    First of all, to my understanding, there are two questions being posted here: A) Who is the better overall midfielder and B) Who should the team be built around?

    While there are several answers I would like to give, I will refrain from fence-sitting and present my clear opinion.

    To answer the question who is the better midfielder, there are several things that have to be taken into consideration. However, in order to simplify things, I’ll focus on one: who has the better off and on the ball movements to create for themselves? The reason I limit the opinion to helping out only themselves is because a player the team should be built around can do both (help out themselves as well as their teammates). Taking this into consideration I would argue that Dempsey is the better overall midfielder. Duece is the type of player who wants to score goals…often. We’ve all seen his lack of enthusiasm for defense when he plays for the USMNT. However, when it comes to putting himself in the right situation to score their are arguably none better.

    As far as who a team should be built around, there is no question it should be Donovan. As stated above, the primary reason for this is that Landon makes everyone around him better…nearly all of the time. No question about it, the vision and selflessness that Landon has exhibited time and time again has earned him the right to be the centerpiece of our team.

    While this argument is extremely condensed (it would take me two weeks and ten pages to fully explore this query), it gives a basic idea of my opinions on the matter.

    Let me know what you guys think…Don’t be afraid to say I’m an idiot…HaHa


  7. […] 4. The Shin Guardian: Warm-Up Debate: Dempsey vs. Donovan […]


  8. Posted by Siege on 2010/02/01 at 10:15 PM

    Remember the goal to put the US up 2-0 over Spain? And it was who to who? Donovan to Dempsey, yeah, that’s right! the timely, curious pass to the determined lucky strike… it’s almost like this goal symbolizes the two’s interactivity and playing styles, very cool.


  9. Posted by Siege on 2010/02/01 at 10:16 PM

    here’s the link


  10. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/02 at 12:01 AM

    While that goal was created b Benny it harkens my first point in the debate that Lando is active and Deuce is reactive.


  11. Posted by GGGGG on 2011/05/23 at 5:20 AM



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