Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Clint Dempsey & Hero Theory

Clint Dempsey's self-visualization.

This post has an Alpha, an Omega, and shit-ton of Greek letters in between, at least conceptually. Still, I hope to keep it brief…

When I watched the Seattle Sounder’s midnight-of-the-soul-loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy (because close enough), a couple things stood out – among them, LA’s sometimes impressive efficiency, and on both sides of the ball. There was something about the Sounders, though, the way Clint Dempsey appears to operate on the assumption that his teammates are second-best to him in all ways, a reality that, obviously, obliges him to handle everything from getting the ball out of the back, to approach play, to finally scoring the sweet, sweet goal that sends the fans home singing!

I picked up the phrase “hero-ball” somewhere – again, probably from Matt Doyle (because that’s all I read) - but that’s all the attribution that I have time for. I’m condensing it to “hero” here because it fits better. Now, to my point…

After recording the Dangerous Balls Podcast, I thought harder about what the “hero” concept means to me. Some players – and, here, yes, absolutely, I would include Dempsey, but also the Colorado Rapids’ Jermaine Jones and Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco – want to put the game on their shoulders and carry it to victory. It’s just in their nature. Sometimes, this pans out – see, Giovinco through all of 2015 and up until…is it six games ago? See Jones’ (pre-meltdown) time in New England (e.g. before his messiah complex caught up with him?), and see Dempsey in the good games in the Copa America Centenario and through the Oba-Deuce year(s).

There’s an aside in all of this: coaches love “hero” players, at least so long as they can pull it off and probably for a few years after. It simplifies a coach’s job when a player can, say, both start and finish a play the way Dempsey sometimes can, or when Jones provides enough presence in midfield to make it effectively a vast no-go zone for the other team. Sounders’ coach Sigi Schmid enjoyed two years of looking like a genius for no better reason than writing “Dempsey” and “Martins” into the starting line-up. Really good players are short-cuts, basically, players with enough talent and sense/belief in what they can do to sort of dictate a new game-plan for their coach; it saves him from thinking, wins them more money, adulation and random hate for five lifetimes, etc. I'm not saying it's win, win, win. I am, however, saying that Klinsmann defaulted to this this past June…the lazy fuck.

What happened against LA, though, highlighted the increasingly real limits to the Dempsey’s “hero” time. The way he showed to receive the ball in the middle third limited his useful availability in the final third where the Sounders needed someone to link play, or, if nothing else, another runner in the box. Here, it’s less that he’s no longer capable of doing something he once did (think it’s true, though, just sayin’), than he’s undercutting some important work that his current and future teammates need to learn – e.g. how to get the ball to either him, or literally any other attacking player/fullback going forward. And, yes, it goes without saying that covering all that ground will get harder for Dempsey with each passing year.

Sometimes, the best way to help another player is to let him learn his job. So, yeah, back off, Clint.

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