Clint Dempsey’s failed loan won’t affect his chances of success in Seattle, Brazil

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So Clint Dempsey didn’t dress for Fulham today. Again. That’s two matches in a row “Deuce” hasn’t made the team, with potential descriptions of his last appearance ranging from ineffective to embarrassing. Search last December’s version of the internet, find the most pessimistic scenario you can for Dempsey’s loan, and you won’t see one curmudgeon willing to predict it would be this bad. Right now, Dempsey’s only silver lining is his health.

For the diehard U.S. Men’s national team fan, it’s tempting to blame the last place Cottagers, but excluding Dempsey was the right move. After losing at home in the FA Cup to a third-tier club, Fulham boss René Meulensteen was desperate for solutions, ones that will extend beyond Dempsey’s time in West London. Beyond the U.S. captain’s fledgling performance, a now impending departure meant Demspey-centric solutions would be counter productive. Even if he started playing well, Meulensteen would have to go back to the drawing board in March having lost time to find a solution that would last through May. Ultimately, Dempsey just ran out of time.

Within the scope of this summer’s World Cup, Fulham’s are secondary concerns. The bottom line is performance, and there’s no question about it: Dempsey hasn’t performed well in his Premier League return. Worryingly, he also didn’t perform well last season with Seattle, and while he was fine in 2012-13 with Tottenham, he didn’t carry over the production that won him a move from Fulham.

In hindsight, it was always unlikely Dempsey was going to put up those numbers in North London, and a change of role under André Villas-Boas didn’t help. Still, it’s hard to see Dempsey’s play since leaving Craven Cottage as anything but three steps backwards. His production dropped at Spurs, then again with Seattle, and now he’s not even playing with Fulham.

That’s the bad news. The relative good news: Dempsey’s performance in West London will probably have no bearing on his chances of turning it around in Seattle. And when we’re talking about being prepared for the World Cup, these next two-plus months with the Sounders are going to be much more important than his training and fitness exercise with Fulham.

source: AP
In 15 appearances for Seattle in 2013, Clint Dempsey scored once. In seven appearances during his loan with Fulham, the U.S. Men’s National Team captain has failed to add to his club-record 50 Premier League goals. (Photo: AP.)

Even if Dempsey had scored five goals during his time with the Cottagers, the challenges he’s be facing in Seattle would be the same. Sigi Schmid still needs to figure out how to use him, preferably in a role that doesn’t require Dempsey to be the first guy receiving the ball out of the defensive third. Dempsey still needs to adjust to whatever role Schmid defines, and perhaps most importantly, Dempsey needs to go from being a complementary part at Spurs (and during this spell at Fulham) to somebody who can be the focal point of a team – something you can argue he’s never been at club level. Even his best days at Fulham saw him as a highly productive opportunist, not somebody inherently expected to put a team on his shoulders.

And by put a team on his shoulders, I mean be the man who is expected to do something positive to tilt a game in his team’s favor. Let’s take the clichés out of it and define what it means on the field. In those moments when Seattle needs to be productive going forward — when everything you drew up on the white board goes out the window — the Sounders need to be able to depend on Dempsey the same way Real Salt Lake depends on Javier Morales, the LA Galaxy depends on Landon Donovan, or the Portland Timbers depend on Diego Valeri (to go through Seattle’s Western Conference rivals). In 2014, Dempsey needs to be that type of player.

No matter how Dempsey performed with Fulham, he was still going to have to adjust to his role with the Sounders. Success may have given him momentum to carry into the Major League Soccer season; more likely, Dempsey’s going to touch down in Seattle, be in an entirely new environment, and see a whole new set of challenges. Beyond being physically fit, nothing about his time in Fulham was going to help him adjust to life with the Sounders.

His return to West London has been a failure, but in the context of what’s come over the next five months, it’s a very limited one. The real test comes when he returns to the Sounders. That’s where the U.S. captain will really be preparing for this summer’s World Cup. If those preparations go well, Dempsey’s struggles with Fulham will be less than an afterthought.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia