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


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.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.