Monday, August 5, 2013

Transfer Monday: Vol. Dempsey

*Note: This is the first post in a three-part look at MLS.

There were whispers of Deuce leaving Tottenham all throughout this transfer window. Paulinho was brought in to strengthen the midfield. Roberto Soldado just became the starting striker. And if the Bale for Di Maria and Coentrao move had actually materialized (which I doubt will at this point), Dempsey leaving would have been completely understandable

That's not to say that this move is a complete mystery. Dempsey could have stayed, but he would have had to battle for a starting spot at any of the positions his versatility allows for. Personally, I would rather have him on the field rather than Moussa Dembele, but that did not look likely.

The real "head scratcher" is why he chose to come back to MLS rather than stay in Europe. It actually makes perfect sense. Critics will look down on this decision because of the fact that Deuce is 30 years old, has a lot left in the tank, and that he has already proven so much in his seven years in the Premier League to regress to MLS. While I agree that he could have stayed abroad and found another team, it would not have been in his best interest. Let's break down his options:

Staying in England

One of the goals Dempsey had not achieved in his time abroad was playing in the Champions League. He had his best chance to make that happen with Spurs, but the team failed to qualify (despite holding a 12 point lead over then-fifth placed Arsenal). Had they finish in fourth place, Dempsey would likely face the same uncertainty this off-season with new signings and loss of playing time. So if he moved to another team in England, where might he have landed?

Let's throw the Top Four out the window because Manchester United, Man City, and Chelsea are all set at his position. A case could be made for Arsenal, but with Cazorla having a strong season, and Arteta and Wilshire manning the other central roles, playing time would certainly be an issue.

That leaves non-Champions League teams as his option in England. Teams like Everton, Fulham, even my struggling Liverpool could have found space for him on the field, but not playing in Europe's highest competition defeats the purpose of staying in England.

Other UCL Teams

Looking for consistent playing time eliminates top teams in top leagues, such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, PSG, etc... this leaves his options as secondary teams in top leagues, or top teams in weak leagues.

Of the former, clubs like Schalke 04, Real Sociedad, or Bayer Leverkusen could be interesting moves for Dempsey. They would offer continental competition (for at least one season) and strong domestic play in the year leading up to the World Cup.

Considering the latter of the options, moving to Celtic, or FC Copenhagen just doesn't make sense domestically. The payoff of potentially playing in the UCL does not offset a weaker weekly schedule (or teammates, for that matter). And I've argued it before, European leagues that are not one of the top five (maybe up to seven if you include Portugal and the Netherlands) are not necessarily stronger than MLS.

Ultimately, moving to a different country and having to earn a starting spot is not the ideal scenario for anyone in a World Cup year.

Returning to MLS

This is a win-win-win for Dempsey, the Seattle Sounders, and MLS.

Clint signed a monster contract (by MLS standards) for $32 million over four years, making him the highest paid player in league history. He moves his family, but to his home country rather than a place where they would have to learn a new language and adapt to a different lifestyle. He will become a focal point for his team, instead of a super-sub, or fringe player. Most importantly, he will not lose his place in the USMNT. Arguably the best American player at the moment, he was never really in danger of losing his place in the team. Over the years MLS players have earned more respect among the national team pool, so playing in Europe is not the most likely way to get called up anymore. Klinsmann is not very happy about the move, but I doubt it will have serious repercussions on an international level. Landon Donovan is the prime example of that. A talented player can turn it on whenever he wants, no matter where he plies his trade.

The Sounders instantly become a title contender with this move. They boast one of the scariest offenses in MLS with Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins, Mauro Rosales already on the roster. They have had strong teams in the past, but floundered in the playoffs. With my LA Galaxy looking vulnerable all season, along with inconsistent teams like Colorado and RSL, Dempsey could put the Sounders over the top in the West.

For MLS, recruiting one of the best American players of all time back home in the prime of his career is a huge coup. It is a testament to the increased competitiveness on the field, as well as the financial muscle off it. Not to mention that Dempsey is a marketable player. The captain of the USMNT playing for the the team with the leagues best attendance is a great buildup to the World Cup. Here's to hoping league officials capitalize on this.

The transfer from one of England's top teams to MLS at the peak of his career may not be the most glamorous move. It may not even be the most intelligent career move. But in the end, none of that matters. Clint Dempsey is a great player who has his priorities in mind. Coming back to the States will not make or break him. For one, he's already made it. Returning home is no longer considered a backwards step for Amerincan players thanks to the advancement of the league and its teams. 

Feel free to leave comments and feedback, suggest future topics to cover, whatever. Also follow me on Twitter @biasedsoccer

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