TUKWILA, Wash. – Clint Dempsey is ready to get back to work.
The Seattle Sounders’ star forward and US national team legend is coming off a bit of a rough stretch, starting with the USMNT’s shocking elimination from World Cup qualifying last month. He then picked up a first-half red card in Seattle’s regular season finale against the Colorado Rapids on Oct. 22, leaving him suspended for the first leg of Seattle’s Western Conference semifinal matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the 2017 Audi MLS Cup playoffs.
The red meant that Dempsey has been a spectator for every Sounders playoff match dating back to last year, when he missed Seattle’s entire MLS Cup run due to an irregular heartbeat. With Sunday’s first leg ending in a scoreless draw – and the Sounders just needing a victory of any kind in Thursday's second leg (10:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes; TSN5, TVAS in Canada) at CenturyLink Field to see them through to the Western Conference Championship – Dempsey says he’s ready to start making up for lost time.
“Just [looking forward to] playing in front of our fans, playing in an exciting game,” Dempsey told reporters after Seattle’s Wednesday training session at Starfire Soccer Complex. “It’s going to be a big challenge but this is what it’s all about: Playing in front of crowds like this and bringing your best.
“It’s always difficult to be on the sidelines,” he added. “I was on the sidelines last year with the heart issue, I missed a lot of games. But, yeah, you want to be out there and help your teammates but they played really well and got the job done in terms of seeing out the first leg. Now it’s about the second.”
Wednesday was the first time Dempsey met with reporters since the USMNT was eliminated from World Cup contention in devastating fashion after a 2-1 road loss to Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10.
The elimination almost certainly means that Dempsey, 34, has played in his last World Cup and also leaves his long-term future with the USMNT in limbo. Asked on Wednesday, however, Dempsey said his hope is that the fallout from the defeat can be channeled into positives going forward.
“I mean, it was disappointing obviously for everybody,” Dempsey said. “But maybe it’s an opportunity now to look at youth development, to look at coaching, to look at style of play. Maybe it’s one of those situations where you take a step back to take two forward.”
Dempsey’s future at the club level in Seattle isn’t a given, either. The Sounders have a club option on him for 2018 and have yet to tip their hand as to whether they’ll exercise it.
For now, though, he’s still the team’s leading goalscorer and has made his legend scoring on big stages. For Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, the hope is that Dempsey’s re-entrance into the fold can help facilitate an offensive breakthrough coming off the scoreless first leg.
“[Dempsey being back] just makes us a more dangerous team,” Schmetzer said on Wednesday. “As far as throwing numbers are concerned, I think we’ve played consistently all year long. Clint just makes us more effective and dangerous. Instead of just keying in on Nico [Lodeiro] or [Will] Bruin, now they’ve got a third guy in the mix who’s goal-dangerous.
“It’ll be a challenge for them certainly but I know they’re looking for the challenge. They’ll be ready and we’ll be ready.”