RSL notes: Dempsey's long-awaited return to Utah
Sandy • Try and think back nearly a decade. The last time Clint Dempsey played in Utah with a club team was Sept. 3, 2005, the inaugural year for Real Salt Lake in Major League Soccer. Nine years ago, Dempsey was a 22-year-old kid on the rise in American soccer. Nine years ago, Dempsey, then of shaggy hair, but the familiar No. 2 jersey, helped his initial MLS club, the New England Revolution, top RSL in a chippy night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The visiting Revolution beat RSL 1-0 in a match that featured six yellow cards of note to Dempsey, former RSL coach Jason Kreis and broadcaster Brian Dunseth Â as well as a red card to current assistant coach Andy Williams in stoppage time. To put give the nine-year stretch even more context: The last time Dempsey played in Utah with an MLS club, recent RSL-Arizona Academy first-team signee Justen Glad was eight.
Dempsey missed both matches against RSL in 2006 due to the FIFA World Cup in Germany and an injury picked up upon his return to MLS. The following January, Dempsey went to England to play with English Premier League club Fulham, where he became a cult icon, starring at the club for six seasons before eventually moving to Tottenham in 2012 and eventually back home to Seattle in 2013. With the U.S. men's national team, he became a starting-XI staple and eventually the captain and has played in three World Cups between his respective club appearances in the Beehive State.
Should Dempsey start or make an appearance as a substitute in Saturday afternoon's nationally-televised match on NBC Sports, the Seattle Sounders attacker will undoubtedly have a serious impact on the match.
I asked RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who obviously knows Dempsey quite well, what specifically goes into tracking the 31-year-old Dempsey as the opposition.
"He's a guy that we have to pay attention to because he could be lost watching the game and once he gets on the ball, he's a difference-maker," said Rimando, who spent the summer with Dempsey and the USMNT in Brazil. "He wants to be on the ball, he wants to be the play-maker, he wants to make plays and we've got to be aware of him because at any given moment, he could make that perfect run or have that ball at his foot making special plays."
Same question was posed to defender Tony Beltran. He said Dempsey's faster than most give him credit for and that his combo of athleticism, size and strength makes him a different mark than most attackers in MLS.
"One of the things I noticed right away is he turns better than anybody I've ever seen [when he gets the ball]," Beltran said. "He shows up in the right spot and is able to turn and push lines. And he finishes chances. He's a player you always have to keep an eye on because you give him an inch, he'll hurt you."
Jeff Cassar said in facing a player of Dempsey's caliber, a team and defense must be "honest and being ready for that little bit of everything."
"He can beat you several different ways," Cassar said. "He's got a ton of different ideas in the box Â he can score with his head, his feet, volleys, and he's great with free kicks. You've got to do a little bit of work on video [in preparation], know what he's capable of and Nicky knows that extremely well, especially being with him on the national team.
"He's got a ton of different ideas. He tries stuff that other people won't."
Redemption factor? Â» Beltran likes to play the Sounders, just the same as L.A., Portland, Sporting Kansas City or any other major rival. He calls these high-profile match-ups "emotional clashes."
The Sounders are a team Beltran "really, really wants to beat," not just due to the 4-0 drubbing RSL had last time these two clubs met at CenturyLink Field on May 31. He also mentioned that Seattle is the highest-profile team in MLS and that RSL is overshadowed a bit by the big-market clubs.
Cassar said the May 31 outing is in the past.
"There's nothing we can do about that one anymore. This is a new challenge. We're starting to sniff around the Supporters' Shield, we're starting to sniff around first place and I think that's what's really important," he said.
More than Deuce Â» Dempsey may lead Seattle with nine goals, but RSL made it clear the Sounders are more than just the No. 2 jersey. The RSL defense catches a break in that Obafemi Martins the second-leading scorer on the team with eight goals Â will miss the match due to yellow-card accumulation. But the Sounders have a significant amount of firepower.
"These guys have so many options," defender Chris Wingert said. "Martins is a big-time player, but they have Clint Dempsey, then they have Kenny Cooper, then they have Lamar Neagle, then they have Chad Barrett â¦ they just have guy after guy after guy that has done great things in this league. Dempsey is one of the best players in the league for a reason and we're going to be wary of him, but to be honest, it's not just him. We're not just concerned with him. We're concerned with their whole team."
Injuries, surgeries, rehab Â» Javier Morales will be a game-time decision for Saturday's tilt with Seattle, Cassar said Friday after training. The 34-year-old midfielder was "feeling under the weather" Friday and has been dealing with a hip injury picked up in last Saturday's 3-0 win over D.C. United. Morales had two assists in the victory. Odds are Luis Gil gets the nod atop the diamond if Morales can't go.
Cassar also said Friday that second-year midfielder John Stertzer underwent successful season-ending surgery on his fractured right tibia Thursday. Stertzer suffered the season-ending blow in Tuesday's international friendly against Club Tijuana in the 79th minute of play. Cassar said he spoke to team surgeon Dr. Andrew Cooper, who said the surgery went according to plan. Stertzer is expected to be 100 percent around December and Cassar expects him ready for preseason in 2015.
Forward Alvaro Saborio is two weeks ahead of schedule on rehabbing his fractured right foot. RSL's all-time leading scorer shed the walking boot Wednesday and jogged around America First Field and on Friday was doing rehabilitation with RSL trainer Kevin Christen at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Another name lost in the shuffle due to long-term injury is defender Rich Balchan, sidelined for an extended period of time with an adductor injury. He also worked with Christen at Rio Tinto Friday. Jordan Allen walked around the pitch at the stadium softly kicking a soccer ball. The first-year midfielder is 12 weeks into his 20-week rehab after undergoing microfracture knee surgery in late May.
Glad, Saucedo head to Czech Republic Â» Recent RSL Homegrown products Glad and Sebastian Saucedo were named to the U.S. U-18's 20-man roster for a 10-day trip to the Czech Republic for the 21st international tournament of Vaclav Jezek. Glad made his professional, first-team debut Tuesday against Tijuana going 90 minutes as a defender. Saucedo, a Park City native, signed with RSL on July 25. Glad, Saucedo and Allen are all Homegrown products of RSL's Arizona-based Academy in Casa Grande, Ariz.
Enough from me. Let's see what happens Saturday afternoon.