The Clint Dempsey gambit in Seattle? Mark it under “big failure” so far

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Let’s start this year: None of this is Clint Dempsey’s fault.

He saw an opportunity to capitalize on success abroad, to bank another big contract before he was too old, and move his wife and children back to the United States, closer to his family and his wife’s family. Once here, the U.S. international did his best – so none of this is meant to criticize Dempsey.

But for the Seattle Sounders this can only be labeled a big swing and miss. So far, at least. There is still plenty of time to reap reward for their swing for the fences … but now the organization is playing from behind on the deal, so to speak.

There is no other way to see it. The organization has done so much right, and has certainly brought energy and emotion to the league in barrels full. Full credit for all that … but they got this one very, very wrong.

For chagrined Seattle Sounders officials, some of this is failure to grasp the laws of unintended consequences. That’s just a misdemeanor offense.

But failure to understand more about the league and how things are won? That’s on them.

The Sounders have never excelled in spending their DP dollars, and here’s more evidence, putting all of their DP dollars once again into the attack. Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales are paid handsomely to generate goals, and they didn’t do enough of it.

Dempsey’s sum total: one goal and one assist in 12 matches.

Add in the inability to do something about the goals falling like Pacific Northwest rain at the other end, and it’s not hard to know why Seattle is sitting around today, wondering where it all went wrong, some major soul-searching ahead – and probably some pretty significant organizational changes.

(MORE: What we learned from Portland’s win Thursday over Seattle)

Dempsey was available, and the club got big eyes. They grabbed him up right fast. And in a way, who could blame Sounders officials for that?

But did they really think that defense was good enough? Because it wasn’t and plenty of us were saying so. In the end it was the worst among Western Conference playoff teams and 9th of 10 post-season teams overall. It was only that good because of heroic screening from the league’s top defensive midfielder, Osvaldo Alonso.

That’s bad roster management, period. The midfield was pretty good, but average at very best if we subtract Alonso. And Rosales as a DP this year was a roster mistake; he just didn’t have the DP chops in 2013.

Rosales played sparingly down the stretch. And in a match the Sounders had to have, Rosales was once again on the bench. Manager Sigi Schmid tried to explain it away in tactical terms, but at some point that’s just silly.

source: Getty Images
Sounders DP Mauro Rosales … played sparingly during the season’s stretch drive and didn’t start Thursday in a match Seattle had to win.

Think about it: In a match where Seattle needed goals, Schmid declined to start his DP attacker, but did start three men (Alonso, Adam Moffat and Shalrie Joseph) whose best position is defensive midfielder. Joseph as a forward? That was a massive reach, a gambit that screamed desperation. Any way you slice it, when your DP attacker is on the bench for a match you absolutely, positively have to win, someone near the top of the food chain has made a mighty mistake.

Beyond that, what did Dempsey’s deal do to the Sounders locker room? Hard to say unless you were in there, but Eddie Johnson was clearly unhappy. And it’s fair to wonder if Alonso was, too? Watching Rosales, Martins and Dempsey make more money while he was so singularly critical to the body of work, that cannot make a man very happy.

In the bigger picture, Seattle has a problem worth exploring: it’s about a certain creeping exceptionalism, this idea that everything is better in Seattle. Because it affects roster choices.

It’s fine if fans want to feel this way, that every player who puts on a Seattle Sounders jersey is a talented individual that every club would kill to have, a player who is top-half or top-quarter in the league pool just … well … just because they play for Seattle. I mean, if the Sounders want him …

Again, the defense wasn’t good enough. The roster needed more balance, and a more objective going-over.

Moving forward, management needs to make better choices, and certainly needs to spend those big DP dollars more wisely.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.