Week in and week out, Clint Dempsey will be a marked man. In Houston’s 3-1 win over the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night, the Dynamo treated him as such.
Houston came into the game fully aware of the caliber of player Dempsey is, which was evident by the way head coach Dominic Kinnear talked about the forward’s knack of being unpredictable earlier and prepped his team for it.
Facing the former EPL star at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston made sure that wherever Dempsey went someone in orange was sure to follow. The plan worked, and while Dempsey had his moments, he had four shots and two on goal, the Dynamo were able to keep him at bay in a winning effort.
“We talked about it during film [work] and talk[ed] before the game; he’s not really a true center forward,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “He’s a guy that bounces off the back four and tries to find those gaps. As long as we’re aware of him and make sure we got pressure when he got the ball; that was the job.”
Kinnear drilled them on what to expect, but how do you prepare for a player of that quality? For Dynamo center back Bobby Boswell, it was about drawing on recent experiences against another top player who presents the same type of challenges.
“Good players find the ball and I think we kind of had an advantage playing Columbus [Crew] and they have [Federico] Higuain. He’s one of the best in the league at finding those spots,” the Dynamo center back said. “Anytime a guy of [that] caliber can get open it’s a dangerous time. We tried to talk and limit [Dempsey’s] touches, but we’re happy he didn’t get his first goal here.”
Still, playing against Higuain may be good training, but facing a player with Dempsey’s quality is still a tall task. As the game wore on and Seattle’s marquee player started to put his imprint on the game, Houston knew they what they were facing and knew shutting him out completely would be tough.
But against a top-level opponent, Houston stuck to their plan, pressured the ball, played quick and were able to mitigate the impact of one of the US national team's best players.
“I think he was getting a little frustrated at the end because he wasn’t getting the ball,” said Adam Moffat, who spent a lot of time tracking Dempsey. “He’s a quality player. He’s a good player and will do well for them. We’re happy we got the three points tonight and shut him down.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.