92013_isi_dempseyclint_mlssb0913131325 Stephen Brashear
Major League Soccer

Defending Dempsey: Three MLS Vets Talk Tactics

How do you keep Clint Dempsey off the score sheet? ASN spoke with Kyle Beckerman, Matt Besler, and Brad Davis to find out how these MLS vets intend to keep Deuce in check.
BY Chris Gigley Posted
September 20, 2013
3:34 PM
DEUCE HAS NOT GOTTEN LOOSE in Major League Soccer—not yet anyway.

But most soccer folk believe Clint Dempsey will score his share of goals for the Seattle Sounders. In fact, at least three league veterans who have trained and played with him on the U.S. men's national team are sure of it.

Midfielders Brad Davis and Kyle Beckerman and defender Matt Besler all have marked Dempsey in U.S. training sessions, and all three told American Soccer Now that Dempsey is one of the best all-around players they've seen. Besler and Davis both cited Dempsey's size and strength, and Davis added that Dempsey's instincts really make him a ticking time bomb for opposing defenses.

“He doesn't react to the play,” Davis said. “He's thinking about it and anticipating the play.”

Dempsey's intense drive is another factor they believe will eventually help the six-foot-one, 170-pound Texan get back to his scoring ways.

“Once he gets on the field, a switch is flipped and he becomes a different person,” Beckerman pointed out.

“He's humble off the field, but he has that chip on that shoulder,” added Davis.

All three spoke with a sense of foreboding, as if they know that soon everyone will see what made Dempsey the most successful American in English Premier League history. So, what advice can they offer to their fellow defenders when it happens? Here's what they told us.

1. Don't relax.

Dempsey's game is a study in contrasts. For a good part of a match, he seems almost lethargic, as if he isn't fit enough to be out there. Don't buy it, Davis warned.

“He's trying to make the other team feel comfortable that he's taken care of,” the Houston midfielder said. “Even when you get him out wide, he can be dangerous out there too because other players are moving into the spaces he's vacated. If a defender thinks he's safe out wide, guess what? In a couple of touches [Dempsey] is suddenly really dangerous.”

2. Communicate Constantly

One of Dempsey's signature moves is floating around the field with seemingly no rhyme or reason. But there's a reason.

“Defenders try to get close, but then he drifts into another player's spot,” Davis said. “It confuses things and forces defenders to communicate and switch off on him. If you don't respond right away, then he has space.”

Several near-misses this year, including a blast from just outside the box in the Sept. 10 Mexico match, have shown that Dempsey doesn't need much space to get a shot off with plenty of pace.

“You just have to always keep an eye on him and make sure you know where he is,” Besler added. “When you play top players like that, it’s more of a team effort to cover him. You have to pass him on and make sure there are a couple guys in his area to help you out.”

3. Draw the foul.

Beckerman said that while defenders usually initiate the contact with forwards, Dempsey is often the one laying a shoulder into the defender.

“He wants physical contact and he doesn't shy away from challenges,” Beckerman said. “Part of his game is taking on that physical aspect and embracing it and taking it to the next level.”

That may not sound right for a player who looks pretty slim on camera, but in Dempsey's case the camera subtracts

“Yeah, I wouldn't call him skinny,” Besler said. “He’s very strong and he’s not afraid of anyone, so he goes for any ball. He holds the ball up well because he is so strong. That’s one of the qualities that is surprising. You look at him and all the goals he scores, but when you play with him you realize how physical he really is.”

No one suggested taking a dive. But if the Deuce gets loose after a skirmish for the ball, taking a seat and praying for whistle may be a defender's best chance of success.

Do you think Dempsey will score in Saturday night's high-profile match against the Los Angeles Galaxy? Is he about to go on a tear or should we all modify our expectations? Share your thoughts below.

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