Any time a major star of the MLS decides to go on a winter loan, eyebrows are raised all throughout the country. There is that uneasy feeling that perhaps American soccer is not good enough to satisfy the player, there is concern that perhaps the loan could morph into a permanent move, and then there is always that fear that the player could suffer a traumatic injury. Such a tragic event forced David Beckham to miss an entire season for the LA Galaxy and the World Cup in 2010, when he was hurt on loan with AC Milan. But now Clint Dempsey, the shining beacon of American soccer, has decided to head out back across the pond to play for Fulham in the English Premier League again. What could this move possibly hold for the future of the player and the World Cup hopes for America?
At first glance the Clint Dempsey loan is a bit heartbreaking. Here is the finest player of the country, just 6 months removed from his massive big money move to Seattle Sounders, now turning his back on the club to play again at Fulham. You begin to wonder whether his heart was truly in the move back to the MLS. His play with the new club evidenced that doubt as well. Although he is such a highly touted player, his first appearances at Sounders hardly went as planned. He scored just 1 goal in 12 appearances and the team lost in the MLS playoffs. He never really got into form and failed to truly connect with his new teammates. By heading back off to England during the MLS offseason he gives off the vibe like he is simply too good for this new team.
But putting emotions aside and looking deeper into the move paints a brighter picture, especially for him personally. Since the Sounders season ended in early November, Dempsey has been out of action for roughly two full months. There is certainly no risk of burnout here, especially considering the light scheduling of MLS games. The player needs to get into form ahead of the most important tournament in his career: the 2014 World Cup. There is simply no better way to prepare for an international competition than by competing against the best players in the world. With Fulham, Dempsey will have the opportunity to go against some of the best players around, many of whom will also be at the World Cup in June. And by limiting his exposure to the EPL to just two months, Dempsey will be less likely to get injured than if he would have stayed with Tottenham this year and exposed his body to the physical league for nine straight months ahead of the tournament!
When Clint Dempsey returns to the Seattle Sounders in March, he will hopefully have found some decent form and will be able to start strong in the MLS season. With the World Cup approaching in the summer, he should be completely ready for the tournament and playing near his peak abilities. It is a smart plan and probably the best move for him and the American National team, who need their top players to be playing their best to have any hopes in Brazil. Remember, a tricky draw put the USA in a group with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal. The team will surely be put to the test from day 1!
Such a move was actually done to perfection in 2010 with USA star Landon Donovan. Having played most of his career with the LA Galaxy, Donovan sought to face top competition by joining Everton, also of the EPL. The energetic forward played very well against the English competition and truly got into his stride ahead of the 2010 World Cup, where he played exceptionally well in South Africa. Following in those footsteps, we could see Clint Dempsey return to his top form in the next 2 months.
But this move will certainly be a challenge. Although Fulham is struggling right now, they have an abundance of world class players at the forward and midfield positions. Players like Dimitar Berbatov, Steve Sidwell, Pajtim Kasami, Adel Taraabt, John Arne Riise, Darren Bent, and Bryan Ruiz are all known professionals who can steal the show on their given day. Dempsey will have to fight to earn a spot in this side.
The real problem for Fulham in the league this year is defense. They have conceded a league high 42 goals this year. The acquisition of Dempsey ignores this problem. Perhaps the team simply feels they can outscore everyone! While chances may be limited with so many good options up front, Dempsey could possibly make an impact as a substitute and spark some life into this struggling team. In the least, Dempsey will be training week in and week out with Fulham, enabling to still play against these star players and top training ahead of the World Cup. However, there is no substitute for playing in competitive matches, and Demspey will surely be eyeing some game time during this loan.
Fortunately, Dempsey already made his debut this weekend by playing the entire FA Cup match against Norwich. While the game ended in a draw, he played well and looked match ready and capable of making plays, which is what Dempsey has come to be known for.
But what excites this writer most about the return of Clint Dempsey to Fulham is the opportunity of Americans to watch their best player play in a top league again. People were certainly surprised that he moved back to the MLS last August, especially given that the transfer was just 1 year removed from his declaration that he wished to play in the UEFA Champions League. While those dreams failed to materialize, the player is a true talent that deserves to play with the best. For American fans, the time has arrived to become a Fulham fan for 2 months so you can watch this player shine. Hopefully Clint Dempsey will inspire a productive loan period with Fulham and get himself readied for upcoming World Cup!
© Nicholas Spiller & Soccerphile.com