This definitely did not go to script, but Clint Dempsey did make his ballyhooed MLS re-introduction Saturday night in Toronto.
Dempsey was not expected to start for his new club, and would probably have been pleased with 30-45 minutes for the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, just a week after he was introduced to the home fans in the Pacific Northwest; the U.S. international is just coming off summer break, having gotten into Tottenham’s preseason training only a few days prior to last week’s high-profile transfer back into MLS.
The plan for a more gradual introduction went awry when Seattle DP striker Obafemi Martins limped off injured after 35 minutes. On came Dempsey, who last played in MLS back in 2006 for the New England Revolution, before his highly successful career elevation into England’s Premier League.
The Sounders were already up on Toronto by a goal when Dempsey, wearing jersey # 2, came off the Sounders’ bench. He finished the match, playing 55 minutes in the Sounders’ 2-1 win.
The U.S. captain was in the sequence that led to Seattle’s second goal, and he did squeeze off a couple of dangerous shots. All in all, he has to be happy just playing his part in a game that helps get Seattle back into playoff positioning.
Dempsey’s first touch Saturday was a big counter attack sprang by fellow U.S. international Eddie Johnson. Johnson’s pass out to the right was just a little behind Dempsey, who still had a one-on-one matchup with TFC defender Ashtone Morgan. Dempsey’s attempt to get around Morgan was met with a shoulder-challenge, leaving the Texas native sprawled and probably wondering if his first Sounders touches might even draw a penalty kick for his new club.
Referee Mark Geiger was having none of it.
Seattle was up by a goal after just 16 minutes, exploiting some absolutely criminal defending from TFC, still one of Major League Soccer’s worst clubs and looking very much like it. Eddie Johnson was terrific in rescuing a Brad Evans cross that looked to be floating wide. Johnson sprang into the air to knock the ball back across goal, where Mauro Rosales was one of three Sounders completely unmarked. His volley from close range made it 1-0.
(Any foreign observers who may have tuned in to check out Dempsey’s debut … ooof! That defensive sequence from the Reds will validate every negative assumption the soccer elitists have about MLS quality. It was truly outrageous.)
The visitors doubled their lead before the break on an own goal from Toronto, as Dempsey helped move possession along the left side prior to Lamar Neagle’s centering pass.
Dempsey drew a (rather needless) foul in the 44th minute, clobbered from behind by Doneil Henry just outside the Reds’ penalty area, even though he was in no position to do anything with the ball had he received it. Dempsey took the free kick but could not quite get over the wall.
The Texas native had fewer chances than he would have liked in the second half as TFC immediately seized momentum after the break, clearly motivated by a poor performance at home through the first 45. Dempsey, operating slightly behind Johnson at the top of Seattle’s 4-4-2, did get on the ball some, almost always managing to move it along in the attack. But with Seattle playing so much defense, he frequently had only Johnson and Mauro Rosales to work with when the visitors’ attack did get moving forward.
Even if Dempsey isn’t match-fit – How can he be, really? – his timing, technical work and awareness of things happening around him looks right where they need to be.
Dempsey’s best moment came in the 70th minute as he created some operating space just outside Toronto’s penalty area, spinning to work himself free and direct a curling effort that needed saving from TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik.