Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Clint Dempsey: To Loan or not to Loan?


After the tidal wave of hype and fanfare that greeted the United States captain back to the league that launched his distinguished career abroad, expectations were understandably tremendous. Whether or not Clint has lived up to billing is at this point mostly speculation considering the start-stop transition he’s had with the team.  So far in his short tenure with Seattle, Dempsey has either missed entirely or come off the bench in eight of his first sixteen matches. With the Sounders’ prospects of winning any significant silverware waning, it will soon be time to decide how best to engineer the offseason in order to make sure that the fitness issues that have plagued Dempsey (and indeed, many other squad members) are going to be solved in preparation for the next campaign. 

Undoubtedly, there will a few teams sniffing around in January for a short-term loan.  Fulham and Tottenham have been bandied about in the press with little in the way of actual substantiation, but it’s not unimaginable that one of these former clubs would love to bring on the forward for that time in the Premier League season when matches are coming fast and hard, the table is getting settled, and those lingering knocks are turning in to full-blown injuries.

As captain of the United States National Team, Clint Dempsey’s going to be making whatever decisions he feels will get him in the best shape for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer. United States National Team Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has already come out and stated that he wanted players like  Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Graham Zusi to go out on loan in order to maintain their sharpness during the MLS offseason.  This will likely weigh heavily on the skipper’s mind, but is no way an ultimatum from the German, and I’m sure that Klinsmann and his staff would be more than willing to listen to input from Seattle with regards to Dempsey’s health situation.

The Sounders front-office and coaching staff are going to be understandably squeamish at the prospect of sending their most prized asset back in to battle instead of having him train and condition with his teammates during the club’s preseason camps.  There are only a few positives that I can potentially see for Seattle. 

The most intriguing positive would be the acquisition of allocation money.  It’s still fairly murky (to me and most other non MLS GMs at least), whether or not the Sounders would be able to receive any significant amount of allocation money, but it seems like it would have to be very generous loan fee  in order for the Sounders to benefit financially from their star’s absence.
However, money always talks, and if the Sounders manage to miss out CONCACAF Champions League qualification and the allocation money that comes with it, they may or may not be willing to bite if they can get enough allocation money to help finance that raise Eddie Johnson’s been asking about.

There’s also always the brand recognition.  This will create another news cycle around England and the rest of Europe talking about the Seattle Sounders.  It’s difficult to figure out how to measure the monetary gain from such an experiment, but it’s hard to argue that seeing MLS players being courted for loans from established Premier League sides helps legitimize the team and league both abroad and among some the snobbier domestically-based fans. 

As a Seattle fan, and someone who wants the best for the National Team during the upcoming World Cup, I think what Clint Dempsey probably needs most is the opportunity to heal and then go through a standard pre-season routine.  He’s far more likely to pick up an injury away at Stoke City than he is during 5v5 scrimmages in sunny Arizona.  If he stays with Seattle, he’ll have three months of preseason and 3 months of MLS regular season action playing alongside Brad Evans and (hopefully) Eddie Johnson.  This should be more than enough to prepare him for Brazil. 

I’d love to see Dempsey strut his stuff among the Premier League elite this winter, but I’m far more interested in seeing him strong and healthy for the 2014 campaign and the sport’s greatest event come June 14th

A lot of this will probably depend on whether or not the Sounders’ campaign is able to continue past Thursday night, and how well Dempsey weathers it.  Either way it will be an interesting decision to make come January.  It’s just my humble hope that Seattle and Klinsmann are on the side of caution this winter.

-Ian Lamberson (@the16thdoc)

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