Clint Dempsey is the big name, but it's the less-heralded players who have driven Seattle to the top. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
It doesn't take a soccer savant to know that Clint Dempsey is very, very good. When Seattle Sounders FC paid $9 million to acquire the U.S. captain at the start of August, just about everyone figured that he would provide a much-needed a jolt to what had been, to that point, a pretty mediocre campaign by the Emerald City club's standards.
In a sense, that's exactly what happened. With a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink field on Friday night, the Sounders took over the top spot in the race for the Supporters' Shield on the strength of a five-game winning streak -- the longest such run by any team this season, and one that started to gain momentum after Dempsey's arrival. Once a run-of-the mill squad, the Sounders now look the part of MLS Cup contenders.
But here's the thing: Dempsey has had very little to do with any of that. In five appearances, Dempsey has zero goals and zero assists. He's taken 18 shots, but only three (!) of those have been on frame. Dempsey entered Friday's game against RSL as a second-half substitute and got into some great positions, only for the ball to get stuck under his feet after about five too many stepovers. It's tempting to say that Dempsey is still finding his footing on the rubber tundra of CenturyLink, but then he goes and does something like this (h/t @KICKTV):
...except that cross came to nothing.
So, yes, Clint Dempsey is very, very good at soccer. He can do things with the ball at his feet that the vast majority of other MLS players can't. But as of now, he hasn't actually contributed much besides a lot of extra eyeballs on his team and MLS as a whole (which is great).
Instead, it's the less-heralded players that have driven Seattle to the top. Lamar Neagle -- the local product who the Sounders re-acquired from Montreal this year for about $9 million less than what Dempsey cost, was simply superb on Friday. He gave the RSL defense headaches with his restless energy and scored his third goal in as many games to put the match just out of reach. It's exactly that -- those tangible results, and a suddenly-flourishing partnership with striker Obafemi Martins -- that might actually keep Dempsey off the field (at least as a striker).
If the wins keep coming, I'm guessing Seattle fans will be OK with that.