Clint Dempsey has been the marquee addition of the MLS off-season
This Sunday, Clint Dempsey really gets welcomed back to Major League Soccer.
After a somewhat underwhelming start to life with the Seattle Sounders—by his lofty standards, at least—the United States international will be the focus of attention as his side host the Portland Timbers in one of the bigger rivalry games of the season.
Over 66,000 fans are expected to descend on CenturyLink field for the contest, making it the biggest home crowd (at club level at least) that Dempsey will have ever played in front of.
I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like when the whole stadium is completely packed and they are behind us.
We’ll feed off that energy and we’ll make sure we give everything we have to let them go home happy.
Winning one game is not the sum total of all the Sounders' fanbase started hoping for after signing Dempsey, however—they now have far bigger goals in mind. In that spirit, we make some predictions for Dempsey's much-vaunted MLS return.
Clint Dempsey will score goals, but not a huge amount of them
Clint Dempsey is a very good forward—but that does not mean he will be top scorer in the MLS this season.
"Deuce" has never been particularly prolific in front of goal, with his best season in that regard being the 2011-12 campaign for Fulham, where he bagged 17 in 37 league games for the Cottagers.
Other than that he is never scored more than 12 in a season, with 25 goals his entire contribution in three previous years in MLS.
Fans will instinctively expect him to be more prolific than he was during that time with the New England Revolution (he has developed greatly as a player since then), but that might not prove to be the case. Dempsey has become better at grabbing important goals than a great volume of them in recent times (a better quality of goal rather than a bigger quantity, if you will), and that could continue in Seattle.
However, he is undoubtedly one of the best technical players in the league now, and that should manifest itself in the number of chances he will create for teammates. With Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins to feed, Dempsey could find himself reeling off a great number of assists—something he has not necessarily be renowned for in the past, but something he may find easier to contribute this season.
Afforded more of the ball, defences will undoubtedly focus more attention on stopping him—but that will free up teammates in attacking positions. Dempsey has the ability to evade defenders and find those free men for better scoring chances, which may prove the role in which he will be most effective for the Sounders.
Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are perhaps the MLS' biggest stars
Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan has long been the face of MLS and American football as a whole, but that has been a status challenged by Dempsey's recent exploits in Europe.
Now Dempsey is back on home turf, expect the media to get great mileage out of comparisons between the sport's two primary American poster boys.
It was perhaps fitting, then, that Dempsey's debut last week came on the same day Donovan struck a hat-trick for the Galaxy.
Perhaps it's a coincidence that Landon Donovan had his best match of the season the day after Clint Dempsey's debut.
Maybe it's just happenstance that, at yet another point when the spotlight started to drift away from the Galaxy star, Donovan reiterated his case for being the US's best player.
Maybe—or maybe it's just that Donovan is coming to the end of his current contract and, at 31 but in an era when MLS sides are giving out bigger and bigger deals, he needs to keep performing to earn a new contract comparable to the one Dempsey now has.
Referring to Dempsey's deal, Donovan told Fox Soccer Daily recently:
As players we're all very happy that the league is stepping up and committing that kind of resources to American players that they want playing in the league.
Right now I'm enjoying myself. I want to continue enjoying myself. We have received offers from teams in different countries that are intriguing.
I am still going to speak with the Galaxy and see how they value me and see where they want to go going forward.
Donovan's performances this season will not be about proving he is better than Dempsey—they will be about proving he deserves a contract to rival Dempsey's.
The big goal for the pair over the next 12 months is the World Cup; for that they will have to be teammates, not enemies.
Clint Dempsey will almost certainly return to the Premier League
Dempsey's Sounders contract has a provision in it allowing him to undertake one loan move back to Europe during its lifetime. Considering both Dempsey's age and the fact that the World Cup is next summer, it seems almost certain he will look to take up that option this January.
The Premier League is the obvious landing spot for Dempsey, considering he knows the competition and, equally significantly, clubs know he can perform there (something that might scare off interest from Italy and Germany).
While it is unlikely Tottenham will move for him (unless they suffer a spate of injuries) he is unlikely to be short of other offers.
Everton (who have enjoyed success with such loans in the past with Landon Donovan) and Newcastle could covet such a talent, while Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has previously been a strong admirer.
Clint is a player we've inquired about, it is as simple as that.
He's a very talented player but we don't like to talk about other clubs' players.
While Liverpool have strengthened significantly since those comments, it is far from impossible that Rodgers' would be keen to add Dempsey to his ranks on a short-term basis. If he did, that would seem Dempsey's obvious landing spot, but even if Rodgers is no longer interested, Dempsey will not be short of top-half sides interested in his services for a three-month period.
This may be more in hope than expectation on the writer's part, but the world is clamouring for another big release from the rapper formerly known as Deuce.
Back in 2006, Dempsey blew up ... well, he did not quite blow up the charts, but he caused a minor viral stir with his debut rap song "Don't Tread." Hitting upon the well-worn rap themes of how good he is at his chosen profession and how unwise you would be to challenge him, Dempsey acquitted himself well on the mic—eventually earning the ultimate accolade, a Rap Genius entry.
Seven years on from that first foray, imagine the lyrical dexterity Deuce has acquired now.
2011 saw Dr. Dre return to the game, 2013 could see an even bigger "D" reclaim the stage...
Clint Dempsey will not guide Seattle to glory—this season at least
The price of being the star attraction, we guess.
Seattle are one of the favourites to lift the MLS Cup, but the nature of the playoff system means that rarely counts for very much. If Seattle do falter at some point, and the likelihood is that they will, then Dempsey will surely become focus of much of the post-mortems as to why it did not quite happen for them.
Still, that's the sort of scrutiny you put up with for a $8 million annual salary.
Dempsey certainly has never been afraid to put himself about on the pitch, and that will not end in the MLS.
The Texan has a long and less than illustrious history of throwing elbows in the direction of opposition players, while he has never been afraid of getting involved in a little trash talk (as the above picture shows).
Dempsey is not the type to let his intensity drop, so expect more than one physical confrontation during this season—although maybe his status will afford him a bit more leniency with the referees than other, less-heralded players would expect to receive.
Dempsey will score goals and provide assists in the MLS, so the obvious next question is how he will celebrate those strikes.
In the past, Dempsey has tended to be somewhat fired up in his celebrations, showing a lot of raw passion as he runs to the fans—at least, either that or commemorating the goal with some odd hand gestures.
Hopefully returning to his home country will see Dempsey return to his roots, producing a few dance moves like in the picture above. Recorded during his time at Furman University, it would be a travesty if the 30-year-old hid his twinkle toes (without the ball at his feet) from the world.
It seems to be a rite of passage for sports stars in different disciplines to get the chance to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game, and so it is surely only a matter of time before Clint Dempsey gets called to the mound for the Seattle Mariners.
Dempsey has already seen what the honour involves up close—standing at something vaguely approaching short-stop as Sounders forward Eddie Johnson produced something vaguely approaching a sinker to get the day's game underway.
Dempsey was not a Seattle player at that time—now he is in their colours, his return to the Mariners is surely already being discussed. When it comes, we back him to produce something even better than Johnson.
What can we say—he just looks like he has a good arm, you know?
Clint Dempsey is a key player for the USMNT
Although EA Sports have yet to confirm whether they will produce a standalone video game for the 2014 World Cup, it seems highly likely they will put out something to accompany the tournament in Brazil.
If they do, Dempsey would be the obvious candidate to be prominently involved with the North American version—possibly as its U.S. cover star, although EA have frequently opted for a more logo-based cover to past iterations.
If they go down that latter route again, Dempsey is an overwhelming favourite to be on the North American cover of FIFA 15, which will surely be released sometime next autumn. Having yet to receive the honour (snubbed this year for Lionel Messi, perhaps partly due to his uncertain club situation), within the next two years is as good a time as any.
Javier Hernandez is known to be of interest to MLS clubs
Dempsey's return to the MLS—a full U.S. international leaving one of Europe's top leagues while still in or near his prime—was hailed as a turning point for the league, but the impact of the deal may be diminished by the next offseason's.
It seems highly unlikely that the league will stop its aggressive pursuit of star additions and, considering the actual help (both financially and logistically) the league was prepared to offer Seattle to get a deal done, it is difficult to suggest there will not be further coups in future.
An obvious expansion market remains America's large Hispanic community—with a Mexican player of the stature of Manchester United's Javier Hernandez an obvious blockbuster option. According to SI's Grant Wahl, Hernandez's name has already come up in MLS discussions.
[Seattle owner David] Roth had vowed to increase his team's spending on players this year, and he has now done that. But he also wants other MLS owners to step up to the plate.
At one Board of Governors meeting, he told his brethren that someone needs to sign Mexican star Javier Hernandez sooner rather than later.
While it would undoubtedly take a lot of persuasion, it is not impossible that an MLS side could lure Hernandez—financially they could offer him a package comparable to most European sides, but it would depend greatly on the ambitions he has for his own career.
Consider this, however; David Beckham is due to unveil his new franchise over the next few years, and Miami is considered his top choice for THE location. With its huge Hispanic and Latino population, a Hernandez to Miami move (especially to join up with Beckham) makes a huge amount of sense on paper.
There's sense on paper and sense in practice, of course. But the MLS' pursuit and acquisition of high-quality talent looks unlikely to end with Dempsey.