When Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley both initially made their returns to Major League Soccer, some United States men's national team fans became worried that playing in MLS would hurt their form heading into this summer's World Cup.
And while it's true that Dempsey's first season home last fall with the Seattle Sounders was not confidence-inspiring, the U.S.'s last international friendly, as well as Dempsey's and Bradley's performances last weekend in MLS, should give USMNT fans plenty to be positive about.
When Dempsey first returned home, it was obvious that he had become surplus to requirements at Tottenham. The move made sense from a playing time perspective—not to mention a financial perspective for Dempsey himself.
After his struggles with the Sounders last fall, Dempsey spent the offseason on winter loan to Fulham. Overall, he played seven games without scoring and near the end of his loan, there were some games when he didn't even make the bench for the Cottagers. A return to Europe was clearly not the answer.
Clint Dempsey somehow uninvolved with both offense and defense today for @FulhamFC. No edge, little desire. In form or not, this is vexing— American Soccer Now (@ThisIsASN) January 18, 2014
Clint Dempsey learning from this loan that you can never go home again. #Fulham— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) February 4, 2014
However, now back in MLS, Dempsey is slowly seeing a return to form. In his first game this season, against Sporting KC, he didn't score but many praised his involvement in the game. Then against Toronto FC in Week Two, Dempsey notched a nice goal in the match.
On national team duty two weeks later, Dempsey was deployed up top in a 4-1-3-2 for the USMNT. While he didn't get on the scoreboard and still faced criticism for his play, he was more effective playing higher up the pitch and did a nice job on several occasions holding up the ball in transition.
What the h--- has happened with Clint Dempsey? #USMNT— Alex Labidou (@LabidouESPN) March 5, 2014
Finally, last weekend, Dempsey broke free of his goal-scoring slump with a hat-trick against arch-rival Portland.
When Michael Bradley came to MLS, many U.S. fans were apoplectic.
I would rather see Bradley sit on the bench every game for Roma than see him come to MLS. What the hell....— Üsry (@RobUsry) January 8, 2014
With just six months to go until the World Cup, they reasoned that regular playing time with AS Roma, albeit much of it off the bench, was better than playing in MLS. However, Bradley has proved that argument wrong. He's been with Toronto since the beginning of the season and has seen no drop in form, playing well in every game this season in MLS.
And against Mexico a week ago, Bradley was outstanding—even leading the Mexican national team coach to offer him high praise.
Throughout the match, Bradley dominated the midfield, proving that his time in MLS has not been detrimental to his game.
With both Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, consistent playing time has led to better form. Neither player lacks confidence—nor should they—and playing regularly will put them in a good place mentally, physically and technically heading into Brazil.
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