Clint Dempsey still possesses the talent necessary to succeed in the English Premier League, which is the main reason his move to the Seattle Sounders was a surprise. Voluntarily reducing the level of competition in the prime of his career opens the door for critics.
Instead of getting ready for the new EPL campaign with Tottenham, he's now preparing for his debut with the Sounders as Major League Soccer enters the stretch run of its regular season. He's walking into a completely different atmosphere.
While the weekly expectations are undoubtedly high in England, Dempsey is actually going to face more pressure following the move. That's because he will expected to crush the competition as the new focal point of Seattle's attack.
Although the club will probably try to alleviate some of that attention by working him in slowly, there's no reason Dempsey should do anything other than dominate in the MLS. He should be the best player on the pitch in virtually every match.
Anything less would be a disappointment. He's not a role player anymore. He can't deliver a couple highlight-reel strikes and still have value to the club. The United States national team's captain must lead the way for the Sounders.
So far, things have gone according to plan. Joshua Mayers of the Seattle Times reports Dempsey has dazzled in training, especially during finishing drills. But his role for Saturday's match against Toronto remains unclear as he searches for peak fitness:
Dempsey is far from 100 percent, however, heading into his expected debut Saturday in Toronto. He is recovering from an illness that forced him to miss practice Tuesday. He’s also still working on fitness since his previous club, Tottenham of the English Premier League, is in preseason.
The Sounders don't want to see their newest prized asset pick up a serious injury right out of the gate. Getting him involved off the bench for a couple weeks until he gets up to full speed is probably the right way to go, but only time will tell what head coach Sigi Schmid decides.
Once Dempsey is ready to go the distance, the next task will be getting on the same page with Eddie Johnson. The American internationals should help form one of the league's most fearsome attacking duos, but it takes some time to develop chemistry. And all this time adds up.
From getting into elite match fitness to finding his strides alongside a new set of teammates and all of the subtle nuances that come with a transfer, Dempsey faces no shortage of hurdles. Yet, he will be expected to produce immediately. The longer it takes for him to start playing at peak form, the more questions will arise about his decision to return stateside.
The other thing to consider is the World Cup, which is now less than a year away. Near the end of cycle, most players are looking to move to Europe in order to bolster their credentials. Dempsey is making the opposite move.
Although his roster spot is secure, manager Jurgen Klinsmann will be just like everybody else, sitting back and expecting Dempsey to dominate. If he doesn't, lineup decisions become tougher with Jozy Altidore back on the rise and Landon Donovan returning to the mix.
No matter what angle you analyze the transfer from, it results in significant pressure on Dempsey's shoulders.
Of course, it could work out to perfection. He could arrive to Seattle, quickly get on the same page with Johnson and lead the Sounders on a terrific run to finish the campaign. In fact, talent-wise, that's exactly what should happen in the coming months.
But if it doesn't, expect Dempsey to catch a lot of flak for returning to the MLS so soon.