Clint Dempsey took a while to find his footing after swapping Tottenham for Seattle last summer. He needed to adapt to his second spell in MLS. His new teammates needed to adjust to the ramifications of an expensive, high-profile signing on and off the field. The early returns for Sounders FC – disjointed on the field, frustrated off of it – reflected the settling period required from any major signing thrust from the end of his offseason into the thick of the MLS playoff race.
Dempsey spent the winter at Fulham to steel himself for his first full season in the Pacific Northwest. He didn’t play much in England or replicate his success from his first spell at Craven Cottage. The lack of production exacerbated the concerns and raised doubts – perhaps a bit unfairly, given his fitness concerns and his taxing schedule over the past few years – about whether Dempsey could exert the impact expected of him in this critical year.
All of the nervousness dissipated as Dempsey returned to his usual self at the start of this campaign. He leaned on the improved chemistry within the team, the revamped structure designed to place him in more menacing positions and the support of his teammates to cobble together the sort emphatic reply designed to quell doubts and show the type impact he can have for club and country.
The numbers behind Dempsey’s stellar April are staggering by any measure: four appearances, seven goals, two assists, 23 shots, 13 shots on goal.
Let those statistics soak for a minute and then process this boggling fact: Dempsey outscored 15 teams in April (New York and FC Dallas mustered nine goals, D.C. United produced 8). Five of those clubs failed to match even half of his haul. The schedule played a part in the modest output for some clubs, but the raw data reflects his sheer dominance over this short period of time and the early stages of this campaign.
In his first six matches this season, Dempsey scored eight times. He procured a number of goals good enough to place in the top 20 on the league goalscoring charts a year ago and replicate his second-best total over the course of an entire MLS campaign during his first spell in the league (2004-06). He also topped the collective haul of five teams through the end of April, though LA Galaxy at least played one fewer game.
Clint Dempsey’s return to form comes at the perfect time with the World Cup right around the corner.
Dempsey’s return to form comes at the perfect time for his club and his country. Seattle needed a bright start to justify its close season overhaul and vindicate the direction taken with it. Dempsey’s blossoming chemistry with Obafemi Martins – an increasingly selfless worker able to combine well, connect the play and round off chances in his own right – and the improved work through midfield supplies exactly the sort of encouragement required. United States manager Jürgen Klinsmann will adopt a similarly enthusiastic approach about the developments given the central role Dempsey plays in his plans for the World Cup next month. Dempsey’s ability to exert his influence over matches and snatch goals at opportune times could mean the difference between a place in the round of 16 or a trip home after just three matches.
The tricky part comes next, though: Dempsey must find a way to carry his current level through the next few MLS matches, the World Cup training camp in Palo Alto, Calif. and the excursion to Brazil itself. He cannot afford to drop his standards, even if they are particularly difficult to sustain right now.
Performances matter far more than the tangible production at this point. He can’t expect to score seven goals in every four games, particular against more rigorous competition. But he must maintain the incisiveness and the ruthlessness summoned over the past few weeks to aid Sounders FC and the United States as they pursue their objectives over the next few weeks.
As he attempts to push toward those shared goals, Dempsey must also retain the audacity and the verve displayed during this recent stretch. It is the best indicator of his confidence levels (high) and his performances (also high). It is the state in which he presents the greatest threat and the most utility on all fronts. And it is the sort of irrepressible gumption necessary for him to extend his productivity against the likes of Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
Even if those matches do not unfold as planned, Dempsey has made the strides expected of him during his first full season in Seattle. He learned from his truncated first campaign and used that knowledge to prepare for the task at hand. And, most importantly, he located the solid ground required to erase any of those doubts and underscore his ability to make a significant impact for both club and country during this particularly important period.