The overarching reaction out of Sounders camp to forward Clint Dempsey’s three-match Major League Soccer suspension, for his actions during a U.S. Open Cup match, was one of acceptance and relief because the suspension could have been longer.
The overarching reaction out of Sounders camp to forward Clint Dempsey’s three-match Major League Soccer suspension, announced Friday, was one of acceptance and relief.
Sure, MLS sanctioning a player for his actions in a cup competition is unprecedented, but once it started poking around the “Policy Against Referee Assault” section of the U.S. Soccer policy manual, it could have been worse. His suspension barely lasts a week, from Saturday afternoon’s match against San Jose at CenturyLink Field through the trips to Philly on Wednesday and Portland next Sunday.
Dempsey’s actions in Seattle’s U.S. Open Cup loss to Portland at Starfire Stadium on Tuesday, in which he snatched and tore up referee Daniel Radford’s notebook, were ultimately deemed referee abuse — which carries a minimum three-match ban — and not assault, which triggers a six-match minimum.
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That distinction is especially important for the U.S. men’s national team. A longer ban would have kept its captain out of next month’s Gold Cup. This one returns Dempsey to action just in time for the USMNT’s tuneup friendly against Guatemala on July 3.
A further ruling from U.S. Soccer will come next week that will only impact Dempsey’s availability for next year’s Open Cup.
From a Sounders perspective, the lenient length of the ban doesn’t matter for much besides optics. Unless U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann uses the episode to send a Landon-Donovan-like message, Dempsey is going to be away from Seattle on international duty for the bulk of July anyway.
Combined with the groin injury Obafemi Martins suffered on Tuesday, Dempsey’s suspension means that Seattle is now facing a minimum of three weeks without its pair of star forwards.
If Martins is out for the maximum of coach Sigi Schmid’s three-to-six-week estimate and the U.S. reaches the continental final, the duo might not play together again until August.
Martins and Dempsey have combined for 14 of Seattle’s league-leading 23 goals this season and assisted on seven others. And their influence goes beyond the numbers.
Schmid used one of the partnership’s least-productive matches of the year — a 1-0 win over Colorado at CenturyLink at the end of May — as an example of how both forwards can change a game without showing up in its box score.
“The other team has so much respect for them that even if they’re a little bit tired, the other team is still not going to take risks of moving away from them,” Schmid said when asked why he didn’t substitute either player out until late in the game.
“If you make a change there, they think, ‘Oh, we don’t have to worry about those two, maybe we can press another guy forward.’ Sometimes, it helps our defending because they’ll tie another guy up.”
What the suspension means
• Clint Dempsey will miss three MLS matches (Saturday vs. San Jose, Wednesday at Philadelphia and June 28 at Portland).
• Dempsey would have been ineligible for any U.S. national-team matches during that stretch, but the U.S. does not have any until July 3, a friendly vs. Guatemala. Dempsey is expected to be available for that match, and for any Gold Cup matches in July.
Besides just scoring goals and dishing out assists, both Martins and Dempsey free up openings for their teammates — for Marco Pappa to cut inside and fire, for Gonzalo Pineda and Osvaldo Alonso to crash into behind the first wave of attack. Those gaps will tighten in their absence.
The Sounders will be especially short-handed for the match against San Jose on Saturday, with Alonso already ruled out and Pineda questionable. Chad Barrett could eventually fill in up top, but he’s unlikely to return from injury in time for the ’Quakes match, either.
Fortunately for Seattle, the next chunk of the schedule might be its easiest stretch of the season. Of its next seven games and leading up to a challenging August, the Sounders face only two teams currently occupying playoff spots.
In the meantime, Seattle could go back to the 4-2-3-1 formation it used with some success in Kansas City, pushing Lamar Neagle into the lone striker role. Young Homegrown Players Darwin Jones and Victor Mansaray might get some ahead-of-schedule minutes, too.
They could provide some valuable depth down the stretch, and having fresher versions of Martins and Dempsey come fall could actually help Seattle’s MLS Cup chances more than hinder them.
But the Sounders’ hopes of retaining the Supporters’ Shield — and staying atop the heap in the competitive Western Conference — just took two serious hits.