How Clint Dempsey's Loan at Fulham Has Paid off in MLS

Shane Murray@shanemurray76Featured ColumnistMay 6, 2014

Fulham's Clint Dempsey takes the ball forward during their 4th round replay English FA Cup soccer match between Fulham and Sheffield United at Craven Cottage stadium in London, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant/Associated Press

There were few raised eyebrows when Clint Dempsey decided to return to England for a loan spell with Fulham during the MLS off-season.

The US international had failed to make a significant impact for the Seattle Sounders since making a sensational $9 million switch from Tottenham Hotspur in August 2013, and with the World Cup looming, he had to do something to regain his form and show that he still has what it takes to lead the line for his country.

With just one goal in nine appearances for the Sounders, Dempsey didn’t make the impact many expected he would after impressing in England’s top flight since his move from the New England Revolution in January 2007.

Whether he was lacking match fitness, whether his head wasn’t right or whether he struggled to adapt to greater attention from opponents anxious to prove themselves against the national team’s captain, Dempsey did not look like a player worth the significant investment made in him.

But since returning from a seven-game loan spell back at Craven Cottage, in which he failed to score, Dempsey has been on fire.

The 31-year-old leads the MLS scoring charts with an impressive eight goals in seven games as Seattle top the Western Conference by two points from Real Salt Lake after nine games.

Dempsey has been instrumental in the team’s rise to the top, his partnership with fellow Designated Player Obafemi Martins proving too hot to handle for opposing defences in the early part of the campaign.

The Texan has scored goals throughout his career, but not with the prolific abandon he has done in recent weeks. He hasn’t scored too many spectacular efforts either, or shown an ability to take on opponents with mazy dribbles, blistering pace or unexpected tricks or flicks.

But with over 100 caps for the USA, and 36 goals, Dempsey has been putting his vast experience to good use, relying as much on his positional sense and instinct as he is on his composure and calm in front of goal.

Don Ryan/Associated Press

Dempsey, who spent most of his childhood living in a trailer park and attributes much of his motivation to the devastating death of his then 16-year-old sister Jennifer to a brain aneurysm in 1995, has also tallied three assists to his eight goals, while Martins’ four goals and four assists illustrate the threat posed by two of the MLS’s big hitters.

Ives Galarcep of Goal.com sums up Dempsey’s early impact succinctly when he says: "Clint Dempsey has buried concerns about his European success translating to MLS dominance as he has found a rich vein of form and has helped Seattle to an outstanding start to the season."

Wearing his favoured No. 2 shirt, which he also wore at Furman University and Tottenham, Dempsey has been a revelation for the Sounders and his form is also something which has delighted national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Speaking to MLSsoccer.com towards the end of April, Klinsmann admitted: "[I'm] very happy that Clint has picked up the rhythm and found his confidence and is part of almost every goal that Seattle scores. That’s really a good sign, it’s great for us going into the final weeks before we hit the preparation for the World Cup knowing that he’s building his confidence more and more and more.

"And it’s due to his hard work that he put in for January, February, being at Fulham. It was not a successful time, but he built a foundation for the months afterward so he seems to now be at the right time, at the right spot."

Dempsey has been the most fouled player in the MLS since his arrival last August, and with that kind of attention comes understandable frustration from time to time. And that frustration led to a two-game suspension for striking Toronto FC’s Mark Bloom in Round Two, which ruled him out of games against the Montreal Impact and the Columbus Crew.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

As such, his season didn’t really get going until April 5, when he hit a stunning hat-trick in a sensational 4-4 draw at Pacific North-West rivals Portland Timbers.

That performance began a remarkable run which saw Dempsey net twice in a 3-2 win at FC Dallas, contribute two assists in a 2-1 win at Chivas USA and another brace in a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids.

Speaking about the run, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid told Q13 Fox Sports: "I think it’s the best one I’ve seen, for sure. In terms of a stretch of games right now and being dominant and imposing his will on the game, I haven’t seen anyone doing what Clint has done this last few games."

For his part, Dempsey has felt good about the form which has seen him become a mainstay in the MLS’s Team of the Week and earned him a couple of Player of the Week gongs. Speaking to the club’s official website Soundersfc.com, Dempsey revealed: "You always feel good when you’re contributing, scoring goals or getting assists. I’m in a good rhythm at the moment and it’s about continuing that form."


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