The very first Open Bar post I wrote here was about soccer, and to be honest, I'm kind of surprised it took me this long to write about it again.* The news of Clint Dempsey leaving the Premier League's Tottenham Hotspurs to join the MLS' Seattle Sounders was just the thing to inspire another soccer post.
My first reaction to hearing the news on Friday was "what in the fuck shit is this?" It makes no sense. Last year Dempsey was playing for Fulham in the Premier League and pretty much forced his way out of the club because he wanted an opportunity to play in European club competitions like the Champions League. So he was sold to Tottenham, and with Dempsey in the fold the team just missed qualifying for the Champions League by a single point. Just a goal, maybe two, away from playing in the world's premier club tournament.
Still, even after missing the cut last year, this is still a club that could compete for the Champions League again this season. So why the hell would Dempsey up and decide to leave England to play in Seattle in the MLS? Sure, he's American, but he's not from Seattle. He's from Texas.
Unless there's some other force at work here, this is a move that just makes no damn sense to me.
But more so than logic, this is a move I just don't like. I don't like it for Clint Dempsey and I don't like it for the United States Men's National Team.
The World Cup will be held in Brazil next summer, provided protestors don't burn the country to the ground before then. In the last few months, through World Cup qualifiers and the recent Gold Cup tournament that the US won, the team has looked better than I can ever recall it looking. Jurgen Klinsmann's plan is obviously working, and though Dempsey did not play in the Gold Cup, he's been a major factor in the overall improvement of the team.
And I'd like to see Dempsey maintain the high level of play he's shown for the last few years, both with the national team and with his club team. And I fear playing in the MLS is counter-productive to this.
I like the MLS. I watch Chicago Fire matches. But I'm no fool when it comes to the quality of the league. I enjoy it, sure, but I also enjoy MAC football and I sure as shit don't think the MAC is as good as the SEC. Well, compared to other leagues of the world, the MLS may not even be on the MAC's level.
So, selfish as I know it is, I don't want Dempsey playing in the MLS with the World Cup coming next summer because I fear he'll have it too easy in the league. All of which could lead to a drop-off in his level of play, and that's just not something I want to see happen before the World Cup.
Don't get me wrong, I understand that Clint Dempsey playing in the MLS is good for the MLS in the big picture, and I want the MLS to improve. I also get that a strong MLS leads to a stronger USMNT in the long run because a strong MLS leads to more American interest in soccer, which leads to more kids playing soccer and American producing better soccer players.
And better American soccer players leads to a better American national team.
I get all of it. It's just Clint Dempsey isn't the future of American soccer. He's the now.
I'm not interested in jeopardizing the present for the future at this moment. Don't get me wrong, I'm not delusional and thinking that the United States is going to win a World Cup next summer. What I am is optimistic that the USMNT can advance past group play -- unless they get put into some kind of death group with Spain, Italy and Brazil -- and once you get to the knockout stage, anything can happen.
The national team is a team that's improving seemingly every time out and could make for one memorable run next summer. But that's only possible if Clint Dempsey is playing at the peak of his abilities.
And I don't think he will be after spending the next 12 months playing the San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus Crew.
If Dempsey wanted to make the move to the MLS for the last few chapters of his career he should have done so next summer, after the World Cup. If he'd have followed that plan I'd be excited about the prospect of Dempsey playing in the MLS and the chance to go see him in person when Seattle comes to Chicago.
Instead I'm just worried.
*2009 Tom Fornelli is fucking baffled by this statement and wants to crawl in a hole and just die