With Jurgen Klinsmann’s insistence on American MLS stars getting off-season loans, it is surprising how little have gone out and secured such a move. The likes of Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi have appeared reluctant to add to their season minutes elsewhere. In the case of Landon Donovan, an incredibly hectic season involving MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League has left the star burnt out.
On the other hand, USMNT captain Clint Dempsey has been under the radar for a while now. His move away from Fulham after a career-best season was expected, however his destination was not. The transfer across London to Tottenham Hotspurs screamed panic buy, and under new manager Andre Villas-Boas, Dempsey didn’t seem to fit any of the Portuguese’s criteria.
Unmoved, Dempsey still performed. Goals against the likes of Manchester United secured hugely important points in the run to Spurs’ best ever points haul. Looking back at a limited, but successful season, Dempsey was continuing his fine form. This form made it all the more surprising that Dempsey chose to return to the United States and MLS. With rumors and pictures beginning on Twitter, it seemed laughable that Dempsey would take a perceived step backwards, but a few hours after the hype began, it was confirmed; Dempsey was a Seattle Sounder.
Many had expectations that Dempsey would drive a disappointing Seattle to the playoffs and hopefully beyond. In fact, Dempsey followed the path of the team, and like fellow goalscorer Obafemi Martins, Dempsey struggled. But unlike Martins, it wasn’t due to injury, it was purely form. At times, Dempsey looked lost and unable to influence games. More surprisingly, his goal tally just dried up. In nine appearances, Dempsey only tallied a single goal.
With such a disrupted season, Dempsey’s interest in a loan move was understandable. The American was in a situation where he needed consistent football and add much needed minutes to his season before the all important 2014 World Cup in Brazil. While Dempsey has struggled in MLS, it is not uncommon or indicative of a decline. Think of the many European playing imports into MLS; hardly any instantly adapt, often taking up to a year to fit in. Tim Cahill’s great season for New York came after an initial period of anonymity on the pitch. By returning to the Premier League, Dempsey is also returning to his comfort zone.
Supposedly clubs such as West Ham United wanted to secure his services in January. With Dempsey choosing Fulham, he returns to familiar surroundings. Not so long ago, Fulham was a haven for American talent with the likes of Brian McBride strutting his stuff at Craven Cottage. Dempsey is also returning to the club which he announced himself as one of the top talents outside the big four. His history with the club coincided with the golden period of Fulham’s recent history. Dempsey in unison with Roy Hodgson drove the club to new heights including the 2010 Europa League final. The run up to the final included a classic Dempsey goal – a goal of huge significance – a lovely chipped effort against Italian giants Juventus.
With his old club currently in dire straits, Dempsey will provide a much needed lift to an aging, slow, and frankly poor squad. Hull’s demolition of Fulham proved the culmination of poor management from both Martin Jol and successor Rene Mulensteen. Dempsey’s habit of important goals could be crucial in steering the Cottagers towards much needed victories in their battle against the drop. Dempsey himself seems content with his move to Fulham, stating:
“It feels good to be back. This has always felt like my home in Europe. Going into a World Cup year, I want to get back to playing at the highest.”