Clint Dempsey’s presence has been lacking on offense for the Sounders as they’ve stumbled out of the gate in MLS play. Dempsey is hoping that changes with time as he gets acclimated with new teammates after the departure of Obafemi Martins.
To get an idea of how the Sounders’ attack is playing Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, keep a close eye on Clint Dempsey.
The numbers will give you some idea as to how the game is progressing: shots on goal, fouls, corner kicks … goals. But for a more abstract sense of the ebbs and flows, track Dempsey’s movement.
When Dempsey is parked near the edge of the Whitecaps box, Seattle’s possession game is humming. When the veteran forward crosses midfield, though, dropping into his team’s defensive half just to get a touch, frustration is simmering.
Sounders vs. Whitecaps
At CenturyLink Field
Saturday at 7 p.m.
Local TV: Q13 FOX
Local Spanish TV: Univision-Seattle
Local radio: KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
Local Spanish radio: El Rey 1360 AM
“The first game against Club America, I felt really good,” said Dempsey, who scored twice in Seattle’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal but is scoreless in two MLS games. “I was getting some good looks. Since then, I haven’t really had many chances. That’s chemistry. That’s us doing a better job of keeping the ball in the final third, moving it around and trying to get chances for each other. It’s coming along.”
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Heat maps track player movement from start to finish, providing a broad-stroke look at the areas each individual occupied most frequently over 90 minutes. Contrast Dempsey’s from the first two MLS games of this season with the second leg of last year’s Western Conference semifinals in Dallas.
Against Real Salt Lake, and especially against Kansas City — where Oniel Fisher’s red card at least partially explains the phenomenon — Dempsey’s movements are as vivid on the opposite side of the field as they are in Seattle’s. In the Sporting match, his map bleeds all the way back to the edge of the Sounders box.
“I’m just trying to get touches on the ball,” Dempsey said. “I’m trying to get involved in the game. If I’m not getting touches, then what am I doing out here?”
Seattle’s preseason shift from a 4-4-2 formation into a three-forward look means roles are still being defined. Playing off each other and establishing partnerships take time.
But Dempsey is also learning to play without Obafemi Martins. His former strike partner was a kindred spirit, another spontaneous freestyler who knew when to pick his spots. Dempsey’s movements were much more defined in that playoff game against FC Dallas at least partially because he was working off a well-established running mate.
Jordan Morris slotted into Martins’ spot in the starting lineup, but not only is it going to take time for him to develop a similar chemistry with Dempsey, the rookie has a different game.
“We’re trying to figure out how each other plays,” Dempsey said. “I’m more the style that likes to link up with people, that likes to give and go. He’s more of a runner, getting behind the line.”
For now, Dempsey is leading more by example than anything else.
“I’m not the type of guy that says, ‘Hey, come sit down. Let me tell you about life,’ ” Dempsey said. “That’s not me.”
Dempsey has also been studying the tape from Seattle’s pair of season-opening losses, trying to pick out trends. Maybe he needs to gamble more on crosses, sprinting into the box with abandon instead of hesitating and waiting to see where the ball is likely to be played.
“I’m not really getting on the end of things,” Dempsey said. “It’s getting on the ball more.”
Along with costly defensive miscues, lack of possession in the attacking third helps explain why Seattle sits at 0-2 despite dominating chunks of the matches.
The fix is more straightforward on defense: Get healthy, tighten up, stop powering down late in halves. Developing offensive chemistry requires patience. To chart that progress, look for Dempsey.
“For Clint, playing out of position has been a little bit of an adjustment and a little bit of a change,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s played in the 4-4-2. Playing in the 4-3-3 is a little bit different. There are times where we need to find him more where we miss him. It’s a work in progress. I don’t worry about Clint. I think he’s a talented player.
“He’s going to find his moments and he’s going to give us the joy we expect and want.”