SEATTLE - Prior to the Seattle Sounders' 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field, one name was conspicuously absent from Seattle’s starting lineup.
Clint Dempsey, Seattle’s star forward and leading goal-scorer, played only the last 20 minutes. After the game, both Dempsey and Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid attributed the decision to rest, not injury.
“Dempsey has been going all year,” Schmid said when asked about the star's omission from the starting XI. “We need to find him little breaks here and there or else we’re going to burn him out completely. I thought he came on and did some good things for us.
After an MVP-caliber start to the season where he scored eight goals in his first 10 matches, Dempsey has slowed down and looked less explosive offensively since returning from the World Cup. It can at least partially be attributed to a rigorous and physically demanding playing schedule. In fact, with his loan to Fulham and his international duties, Dempsey has already logged an entire season’s worth of playing time since January.
"I'm feeling tired," Dempsey told reporters after the San Jose draw. "I've been going nonstop since December, really. So that's why I was rested today, just trying to get my legs back under me and try to feel energized. Hopefully we can figure out a way to manage that and get back to feeling good again."
Managing Dempsey’s minutes could be a theme as Seattle’s season progresses. The Sounders have depth at the forward position that allows Schmid a degree of flexibility with his superstar. Veterans Chad Barrett and Kenny Cooper have filled in capably at various points throughout the year, combining for nine goals.
It’s no surprise that Dempsey’s scoring drought has coincided with Seattle’s roughest patch of the season. The Sounders have posted a subpar 1-3-1 record since Dempsey's last goal, a late winner against the Timbers, falling into a tie with Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
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But the Sounders must juggle the needs of the team with the needs of the individual player in this instance.
"It's rest," Dempsey said. "Ninety minutes takes a lot out of you. Games on turf take a lot out of you...Just trying to manage that load so I can be fresh, get my legs back and have a strong run to the end of the season."