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The case for Clint Dempsey as a striker

Clint Dempsey has been playing in the English Premier League since the 2006-2007 season. In that time he has established himself as a starter and major contributor at Fulham. He has made clutch goals to keep Fulham out of relegation.

This season he has 7 goals and 3 assists, which matches his production in the previous two seasons. Of course this season he was sidelined for a couple of months with a knee injury. He has only improved since he came to the Premier League.

Although his numbers may not be that high, he has made some spectacular goals. He has shown good creativity and poaching skills. His lob against Juventus was just amazing. In his last match against West Ham he had a beautiful shot that came off the top cross bar before he put away another goal later in the match.

During his last match he also played as a forward. Roy Hodgson has certainly seen that Dempsey can be very dangerous around the goal. I would have thought this would have been clear to everyone after Dempsey scored in three straight Confederations Cup matches against Egypt, Spain, and Brazil.

Dempsey doesn’t have amazing speed or size, although he is quick and 6’1”. What he does have is creativity and the intangible ability to be in the right spot to score. He might play a whole game without doing much, and then he suddenly just puts the ball in the net. He has good foot skills and can beat people. He plays well in the air and has a good shot with good accuracy.

Dempsey ought to play as close to the goal as possible. On the US national team he has only played as a striker a handful of times. He usually plays as a right winger. He has played traditionally at Fulham as a right winger also. However, I think it is time for a change. With Charlie Davies far from being in peak form, Dempsey should be the solution up top with Jozy Altidore.

While Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle have put in impressive performances over this past 4 months, they do not have proven track records as goalscorers. Dempsey has a proven track record of scoring in the Premier League and at the international level. Buddle has been scoring in MLS, while Gomez has been scoring in Mexico. Dempsey is in another class from these two or any of the other forward options to go alongside Jozy Altidore.

While Dempsey might not have the brute force and ball holding skills of Brian Ching or Conor Casey, I still think he is a better option than either of these two target forwards. Altidore has made progress as a target forward and Dempsey can do this pretty well also. Dempsey also has the passing creativity that Brian Ching posses, so I don’t think you lose much putting in Dempsey over Ching or Casey. In addition you get a lot of pluses that Ching and Casey don’t have.

Moving Dempsey to forward does create a hole in the starting midfield at right wing. Of course Landon Donovan could very well fill this hole instead of playing on the left side. Or Stuart Holden could get a shot on the right. Benny Feilhaber could play there as could Stuart Holden. Maybe even Steve Cherundolo could play there if you have Jonathan Spector as a right back. This opens the left midfield spot to Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, or DaMarcus Beasley.

Even though we might weaken the midfield slightly, the improvement in putting Dempsey up top with Altidore could be dramatic. Bob Bradley will be making decisions on an initial 30 man roster by May 11th. I think that Charlie Davies, Herculez Gomez, and Edson Buddle ought to be on that roster. However, unless they show something amazing, I think that the 23 man roster ought to include Dempsey, Altidore, and Ching as forwards. This would leave one more spot for a speedster like Davies, Gomez, Buddle, Findley, etc. What do you think?

8 Comments

  1. I like the Altidore-Dempsey combo up top, also because Donovan belongs as a right wing midfielder (see his time with Everton). I fear it won’t happen because this squad has little experience with playing in that formation, and the World Cup is not the time for experimentation. It’s an oversight long in the making, and it may cost the U.S. their most threatening lineup.

  2. Ryan Pine says:

    Adam- like you correctly pointed out- I think it all comes down to Stuey Holden. If he’s fit, Deuce can move to striker without too much of a drop off.

    I’m really fascinated by the newish 4-6-0 that a lot of clubs in recent years have been employing, most notably Roma. It’s fairly simple- there isn’t a discernible center forward, rather a front six who alternates moving into the advanced role. Considering Davies isn’t match fit, Altidore has been stinking it up, Findley doesn’t really have the quality and Gomez and Buddle are unproven on the international stage; how about USMNT giving this a crack? You could play a front six of Donovan, Dempsey, Holden, Bradley, Edu and Torres with all taking turns advancing. At the back would be Spector, Bocanegra, Onyewu, and Bornstein. Bring Davies or even Eddie Johnson off the bench to inject a little pace.

    The US are at their best when they’re attacking with pace and precision, a la the Donovan goal against Brazil. A center forward just in there to hold up play, but not necessarily link up play, slows everything down. Casey, Ching, and Cooper all fit this mold.

    I think the future of football is the hybrid forward- the David Villa, Wayne Rooney, Leo Messi type who can drop deep into midfield, pick up the ball and pick out teammates.

    And when have England’s two center backs looked vulnerable lately? Against attackers running at them with pace. JT and Rio, on current form, are in no condition (mentally or physically) to deal with Charlie Davies’ speed.

  3. I liked where this discussion was going until someone mentioned experimentation and then the name Bornstein was blurted as a starter.

    Clearly Bradley is not going to try anything new. Dempsey as a striker out of necessity – now that may happen. For me, the key is the unknown players like Gomez and Torres getting a chance against defenders who will underestimate them.

    The US is a team that must surprise to be successful. Sadly, there will be no tactical or skillful breakthrough to get by seasoned international opposition.

  4. Ryan Pine says:

    I’m confused- you say you don’t want to try anything new and then in the next breath say that we have to surprise to be successful. Can you surprise people with the same old approach and personnel?

  5. Was referring to wholesale formation changes at this stage as being too much. Davies clearly surprised people in qualifying. Donovan burst on to the stage in ’02.

  6. I’m not big on the formation change this late in the game. I seem to remember something about a surprise 3-6-1 at a past World Cup by some guy named Sampson.

    Overall, I’m with Andrew on this one. If Davies can’t return — and let’s be honest, he probably can’t, but who knows? — then Dempsey’s the guy. The guy just knows how to find the goal. A healthy Holden is your right wing option. He might be the best crosser on the roster.

    I’ll leave the left back debate for another day.

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