The Sounder Silence: Is Captain America Clint Dempsey Running on Empty?
It wasn’t a particularly good game, flashes of excitement with a single goal for the Los Angeles Galaxy offering more hope to the visiting Seattle Sounders than satisfaction to the victor.
So why did this Western Conference semi-final feel more like a changing of the guard than a steppingstone to greater glory?
We already know that Landon Donovan’s days in MLS have dwindled to but a few. In truth on Sunday, apart from a few deft touches, he was a pale shadow of the striker who once terrorized opponents with his speed and determination to be first to the ball.
Watching him play live at the Stub-Hub Center in Carson, CA, you see much that is missed by the TV cameras. Landon’s non-stop movement of old has been replaced by a languid indifference to defense, a lofty disdain for chasing lost causes and going into half-hearted tackles like he’s afraid of starting his retirement on crutches.
The talent is still there, of course. There was never really any question about that, just the temperament to be everything he promised to be. One through pass, in particular, was sublime. Had the old Landon been on the end of it there’s little doubt the ball would have ended in the back of the net. As it was, it was just another squandered chance to put away the Sounders.
A Galaxy season ticket holder told me that anyone who has watched the team regularly knew exactly why Jurgen Klinsmann left the 32-year-old out of the national World Cup squad.
More of a surprise was the ineffectiveness of the one US player more than anyone else who has succeeded through his career in eclipsing Landon – Clint Dempsey. He was tidy against L.A., no more. He fluffed the chances he did have and was outshined by his more direct striking partner Obafemi Martens.
Seattle has just one goal in 270 minutes in the postseason and the US team captain – highest ever Premier League scorer for Fulham during his time at the English club but without a goal in his last four Sounders outings – must shoulder some of the blame having missed two one-on-ones with lively keeper Jaime Penedo.
He has always played with a steely passion but there was little sign of it on Sunday. It was as if he and Donovan think they’ve done enough to earn our undying admiration and needn’t try so hard anymore. Perhaps both just have too many miles on the legs to be difference makers any more.
At 31, I would be surprised if Dempsey features in Klinsmann’s long-term plans. On this showing, he won’t be around for the short-term either.
It didn’t help the Sounders that their other star, DeAndre Yedlin played with one eye on his January move to Tottenham Hotspur and rarely accelerated into second gear let alone fifth.
So what did we have in this showcase match? We had two over the top stars, two over the top but still effective imports in Martens and Robbie Keane and a flying winger with one foot on the plane to London. There was an interesting tactical battle and a fine supporting case with the dangerous Gyasi Zardes up front for the Galaxy and the considerable presence of Omar Gonzalez at the back.
But is it enough going forward?
American football is at a fascinating crossroads with the old guard – let’s count Everton keeper Tim Howard among them – on the wane. The older, European stars will continue to look for a final big payday in the MLS with varying degrees of success and the younger homegrown players will largely be woefully underpaid.
At 21-year-old, the league is coming of age and the future will be in the hands – and at the feet – of the youngsters waiting to burst through from the meticulously run youth system Klinsmann and his team are orchestrating and not from the tired legs of the older stars who have seen better days.
Donovan will want his final hurrah, of course, but one wonders if Dempsey’s team triumphs next weekend then that may set up his last real chance to shine before he hangs up his boots.