Dempsey's road to Brazil going through Fulham

Posted by Doug McIntyre

Clint Dempsey's long-rumored loan move back to Fulham inched closer to reality on Friday, with manager Rene Meulensteen confirming the U.S. captain was in London undergoing a medical examination before formally returning to Craven Cottage.

After weeks of rumors, the deal isn't unexpected -- even if it comes just 17 months after Dempsey forced his way out of Fulham in what became an ugly divorce on the eve of his transfer to Tottenham Hotspur last year.

Dempsey is property of the Seattle Sounders now, of course, with the MLS club having purchased him from Spurs for $10 million in August. The deal included a provision allowing Dempsey to return to Europe on loan during the domestic offseason. But after struggling with injuries and form upon his return from England -- Dempsey, 30, managed just one goal in 12 games with the Sounders, including playoffs -- some wondered if he wouldn't opt for a full preseason with Seattle instead.

That was never likely to happen. The loan was written into Dempsey’s contract for a reason: to be exercised ahead of what would be the Texan’s third World Cup next summer in Brazil.

Sure, staying home would have allowed Dempsey to participate in the national team’s annual January camp, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has maintained that his preference is for MLS players to go on loan if they have the opportunity.

You can also be sure that Dempsey wants to show that he can still excel in the English Premier League, where he scored 57 goals in 213 games from 2007-13.

“I think it’s a good move,” said ESPN FC analyst Steve Nicol, Dempsey’s former coach with the New England Revolution. “He’s had a few weeks off since the [Sounders’] season finished, so he’s had plenty of rest. And there’s no pressure on him to go into the team straight away.”

Before he was sold to Spurs on the final day of the 2012 summer transfer window, Dempsey was criticized by since-fired Fulham manager Martin Jol. But with 19th-place Fulham on pace for relegation from the Premier League, the attacker will be welcomed back with open arms by most of the Cottagers’ faithful.

Meulensteen, who replaced Jol earlier this month, made it clear the American will be counted on immediately.

“It would be a real boost for us,” he said of the potential deal. "He can come in from the left or play as a second striker depending on who you’re playing against.”

The move could also help the U.S.

Provided he stays healthy -- and he’s no more likely to get injured in England than by partaking in Klinsmann’s grueling two-a-days -- Dempsey will face all-world competition for the first two months of 2014, including games against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. He’s returning to a place he’s comfortable, where he’s had success. And unlike last year, when he never fully regained his match fitness after arriving in midseason, Dempsey will be in peak form when he returns to Seattle in March, just two months before Klinsmann gathers his squad for Brazil.

Actually, Meulensteen already sounds like he wouldn't mind keeping Dempsey around longer. “Initially, it’s for January and February,” he said on Friday. But it’s difficult to see the Sounders letting their marquee signing stay until the end of the English season.

But if Dempsey can rediscover the scoring touch he had in his final season at Fulham, when he scored 17 EPL goals, and play a role in helping his former club stay up, it will be just as hard for the Cottagers to see him go.


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