Though Clint Dempsey is sometimes considered overrated, the Sounders have floundered without him this season. In the midst of a playoff push, will they learn how to succeed without him?
With Clint Dempsey still out with an irregular heartbeat, the Seattle Sounders enter the pivotal San Jose match down one of their best and most influential players. In a season marked by ups and (a lot of) downs, one thing has been clear; this team has needed Dempsey.
This season, they’ve played 17 games with him, and 9 without him. The numbers, below, frankly, caught me off-guard.
8-7-2, GD: +9
1-6-2, GD: -13
9-13-4, GD: -4
It’s clear from the numbers that Dempsey has a strong impact on the success of this team. They’ve managed to win only one of 9 games without him. They score only .67 goals per game without him as opposed to 1.47 with him. They score less than half when Deuce isn’t on the field.
More surprising is on the other end. With Dempsey, Seattle averaged .94 goals allowed per game, versus more than two without him. Dempsey, despite being an attacking midfielder has an impact on both sides of the field.
While the numbers aren’t encouraging, better news lies just a little deeper. Since Lodeiro has arrived, things went slightly better in the two games without Dempsey. They didn’t win either, but the offense showed the ability to still put points up without Dempsey in. His absence and Tyrone Mears’ subpar play of late will likely see Evans move to right back for Torres, and Alvaro “Flaco” Fernandez in at right mid.
Defensive issues aside, the offense looked stagnant in the first half of the 4-2 loss at Portland. There wasn’t any pressure created, and what little movement existed was swiftly cut off. Part of this is that Lodeiro becomes the only standalone threat with Dempsey’s absence.
Someone with Morris’ skill set and talents, being able to have his back to the net and break hard and outrun everyone, isn’t a threat on his own. He needs someone to feed him those passes and create space for him.
What made the Sounders look so great for the first four games of Lodeiro’s tenure was the fact that they had three huge weapons. Morris, Dempsey, and Lodeiro, all with their own complementing skills, were a nightmare to deal with all at once. Three great players is simply too much to deal with for nearly any backline that isn’t composed of steel (or Marshall and Torres).
Without Dempsey, all opposing defenses needed to do was shut down Lodeiro, and the attack suffocates.
How to Right the Ship
If the Sounders are going to make the playoff push we all know they have in them, it will take a push from two players, one more than the other.
Fernandez and Andreas Ivanschitz, the likely outside mids, need to step up and do their part in making this offense dangerous without Dempsey.
Ivanschitz has played fairly well this season, netting himself three goals and seven assists, the second the most on the team. Minus Dempsey, he will have to shoulder more responsibility, and make himself dangerous enough to warrant attention from opposing defenses.
Flaco especially must become more of a weapon looking forward to make the postseason a realistic goal. With three appearances so far, he’s had his time to settle in. He’s recorded just a single shot compared to two offsides.
That simply isn’t good enough. The lanky Uruguayan will have to show the technical and passing skills that made him such a fan favorite in his earlier time with the Rave Green.
Ivanschitz and Fernandez don’t need to record goals. All they need to do is relieve the pressure on Lodeiro. If they make themselves enough of a thought in the back of defense’s minds, the offense can spark back alive and catch fire until Dempsey hopefully returns.
And then, we build a bonfire.
Scarves up, Seattle.