CHANNELLING TANAKA
RECAPS
EXTRA TIME
GEORGE MURPHY - Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Hamish Blair/Getty
Deuce has been sharp recently
If there was a market where people were able to trade soccer players' stocks, the suicide rate in the world would most likely triple.

It's amazing how in the matter of weeks - sometimes even days - a player can go from being considered the best on his team, to struggling to find a place in the lineup.

Injuries, disputes with a player or coach, or (in the other "football"), letting your bonehead friends help you run an illegal dogfighting ring, can see you from hero to zero in the matter of seconds.

Roberto Baggio missed the penalty kick, Zinedine Zidane did his Bonk the video game impression, and Diego Maradona, well, we all know what he did. All of them considered to be among the best players in the world one minute, to answering "why the hell did you do that?" questions for the next 20 years.

Want another example?

Before the World Cup last year Landon Donovan admitted that he wasn't the best player in the country, and that the title belonged to....

John O'Brien.

One year (and multiple injuries) later and John can't even get on an MLS team, let alone break into the national pool.

It's a cruel and unfortunate story, but it shows that players know they have to perform week in and week out, because there's five guys waiting to take their spot.

"A few weeks ago it seemed like you were going to be struggling for a spot..."

"A few weeks ago? Against who?"

"Um... (thinking to myself whoa, dude... I didn't say I watched every match...)"

"Villa?"

"Yeah... (I think?)"

"I scored against Villa."

"...yeah... but, a little before that, when you kinda missed that open goal..."

There were reports and speculations a few weeks ago, after he missed an open goal and seemed to be in a slump, that Clint Dempsey wasn't going to fit into Fulham coach Lawrie Sanchez's plans, and that his replacement and the transfer deadline were right around the corner.

Even when we caught up with Deuce at the Sweden match, you kind of got the impression that he was still trying to prove that he belongs in the team.

This is the player, by the way, who darted half way up the field against Liverpool in the last game of last season, linked up with Rosenior in a great buildup, beat Pepe Reina and saved his new club from relegation.

And all of a sudden, after one game, he's not going to be included in the team?

"Oh yeah. Now I know what you're talking about," he told me right before the match against Brazil. "Against 'Boro."

"That kind of thing doesn't bother me. I think coach kind of looked at it like a goalkeeper blowing a save and letting the ball go in his own net. That kind of thing happens in football"

Translation?

So I missed an open goal, what do you want me to do? Stop shooting? Think about it for the rest of the season and let it get me down?

Even sitting across from him, while he is 100 percent receptive to the questions he's being asked, you kind of get a sense of borderline cockiness from him, like the questions are more of a challenge (probably because it's the same questions everybody has been asking him all month).

I feel like I'm sitting across from Phil Ivey at the Taj about to give up my life savings, knowing it's chump change to him and he does it all the time. Dempsey kind of has his head down, eyes up, arms crossed, waiting for a dumb question so he can pounce on it.

He has that one personality trait that sets him aside from the rest.

What am I talking about?

Remember in Major League 2, when the Asian guy, Tanaka, told the struggling slugger and Buddha worshipper Pedro Cerrano 'You have no MARBLES!' ?

Remember how he was rounding the bases?

Maybe that should be Dempsey's next celebration dance after a goal, run by Donovan yelling "Marbles!"

Deuce has the confidence in himself that let's him turn in performances in big games. He has the flair, moves, and dances because he's confident enough to try them. And he doesn't let anything in the past affect his game.

He doesn't care if somebody was sitting on their couch after he scored against Ghana last summer saying "Who is this Texas boy doing the Ronaldinho two-step?"

He doesn't care what you or I think. He just wants to win. How did he answer his critics after the Middlesbrough match?

Well, like he reminded me, he got a goal at Villa Park the week after (a hard left footed shot from above the 18).

The next week he gets a goal and sets up another against Tottenham in an amazing comeback draw.

Then, he scores against Brazil on Sunday in a 4-2 loss that could have been refereed better by Hans Moleman from the Simpsons.

The only problem with Dempsey in the national team right now, is finding a position where he can fulfill his potential.

In the past two matchess - and recently at Fulham, mainly due to Brian McBride being injured - he has been playing the target forward role. While it is true that he scored over the weekend, you kind of get the feeling that he could do a little more if given the right opportunity.

"I just like to be in the attack. But I really like an attacking mid position, or maybe playing behind a bigger holding forward like a Brian Ching."

Unfortunately for Clint, that position is taken by the untouchable of US soccer, Mr. Almost All-Time Leading Scorer himself.

If you're getting the impression that I am knocking Landon Donovan at all, its the wrong one. Landon is a great player with amazing ability. There's not another player who is faster or more dangerous running through the center of the field.

But Dempsey and Donovan seem to be complete opposites.

One seems to accept any challenge that comes his way and was excited about his move to Europe, the other seems content with staying in MLS for the rest of his career.

One scores major goals in matches for his Premiership team, for his country in the World Cup and important international friendlies, the other disappeared last summer and scores the occasional goal for the LA Galaxy.

Anyways, back to my point; Dempsey and where to play him.

It would seem he wants the position Donovan normally plays, and we all know that probably won't happen.

So... if you can't beat em, join em.

Maybe their opposite personalities and styles of play could compliment each other, along with a bigger holding forward in front of them, such as Brian Ching or Kenny Cooper. What do I know, I'm not a coach.

But whatever formation Bob Bradley decides to use leading up to 2010 in South Africa, one of the main objectives should be to utilize Dempsey as one of, if not the, key players.

Previous USMNT coach Bruce Arena thought the best way of doing this is by using him at outside midfield, and letting him run at an isolated outside back. The problem is Dempsey is too important to be isolated on the outside, where he wouldn't get the ball as much and his main priority being feeding in crosses.

Bob Bradley and the USMNT have three years to hope they can find the formation that can best utilize Dempsey's potential.

"I'm just trying to prove I'm a threat, and that, if you put belief in me, I produce results."

I sat in the supporters' section in Soldier Field and told anyone that would listen that Dempsey would score against Brazil, and he did. I'm not the president of his fan club, I don't even know him, but the confidence in himself that he shows is obvious that he has a willingness to succeed.

Let's all hope that he can stay on his hot streak and away from injuries.

And help the other players find their marbles.
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