What should we fairly expect of Clint Dempsey tonight when he lines up opposite Portland in Major League Soccer’s marquee match of 2013 to date?
I mean, Seattle’s mayor has officially proclaimed it Rave Green Day in the Emerald City, so you know this is serious. Expectations will be spilling over the sides of a packed CenturyLink Field, where the second largest crowd yet for a stand-alone MLS match is expected to watch tonight, plus the national TV audience.
The league’s newest $5 million man has been a Seattle Sounder just under three weeks now, officially speaking. And he has played in just two competitive matches since June. Two matches from a man whose body and mind remain more or less in preseason condition is not a lot. (Really, just a match and a half, since Dempsey came on late in the first half of his Sounders’ debut for an injured Obafemi Martins.)
But none of that matters when you make approximately $4.85 million annually more than the average MLS man. Expectations are high, and rightly so.
(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s Seattle-Portland preview)
It’s part of the deal the proud Texas man accepted when he signed on the dotted line. So what should we realistically expect?
Production. Bottom line stuff. Dempsey needs to create a goal tonight. Or better yet, score one. It doesn’t even need to be a screamer from 30 yards or some picturesque diving header; a sitter at the far post would suffice.
At very least, “Deuce” has to figure into a Sounders scoring sequence. Short of that, the pressure will begin building on Dempsey, on the Sounders organization, on manager Sigi Schmid, who is charged with getting the best from all his heralded offensive toys (Dempsey, Martins and Eddie Johnson.)
Even the league’s owners from around the country will have reason to begin peering at this deal with a slightly more cynical leaning; each owner did, after all, pony up his share of Dempsey’s reported $9 million transfer price. They are all invested in this one.
Here’s what Schmid had to say to MLSSoccer.com about the man’s state of readiness:
Fitness-wise, I think he’s about 80-85 percent right now. And with that comes all the little things, and all those fine touches. He had a ball against Houston last week where he had a left-footed shot, and I think a fit Clint Dempsey bends that shot into the corner. He couldn’t get around it, and he just put it wide.
“And his integration to the team is still going to take a couple games, but that’s tough. He’ll get those couple of games and then he’s gone with the national team, and then we have to start right over again!”
Dempsey’s first match, in replacement of Martins, can be written off. He did fine, although no ultimate production. His second match was also a tough assignment, making a difference in Houston’s military grade heat and humidity.
But this is the moment. This is why he’s here, to win big matches. To haul Seattle from its season-long mire in “average” to something greater.
It would be nice if Dempsey had a little more time for working into it – but guys who need “working into it” time are falling off the end of MLS benches at 18 facilities. Dempsey has to be different, has to be a true game-changer – and it really should begin tonight.