SEATTLE – Last season, while his Seattle Sounders teammates embarked on one of the most remarkable regular season turnarounds in league history and won the franchise’s first-ever MLS Cup, Clint Dempsey was watching from the sidelines – shelved for the season after doctors detected an irregular heartbeat.
On Thursday, Seattle’s star forward finally made his much-anticipated postseason return. And he didn’t disappoint.
Dempsey bagged a dramatic go-ahead goal in the 56th minute of the second leg of Seattle’s Western Conference semifinal matchup with the Vancouver Whitecaps at CenturyLink Field on Thursday, then added the dagger just before second-half stoppage time. The result was a 2-0 aggregate triumph that sent the Sounders to a second-straight Western Conference Championship, squarely on the back of their franchise player.
“Anytime you can play in playoff games and contribute in a good way, it feels good,” Dempsey told reporters after the game. “I don’t look it at like that, like I missed out [last year]. I’m excited to be playing now and I just want to make the most of the time I have left. So, I’m looking forward to trying to go as far as we can and trying to repeat.”
Dempsey’s heroics on Thursday came in a game that was locked in a tense, scoreless deadlock through the halftime break. Even after Dempsey finally broke through with the opener in the 56th, an equalizer from Vancouver and a 1-1 draw would have sent the visitors through on the away goal tie-breaker.
But Dempsey made sure that wouldn’t even be a possibility, leaking to the far post and cashing home a pinpoint feed from Victor Rodriguez in the 88th minute to officially punch Seattle’s ticket to the final four.
“To get the first one, that was a huge,” Dempsey said. “But with the second one, yeah, you know you’re in a good position and that even if they score you’re going to go through. So, it for sure sealed the game for us, especially with the time that was left. That was crucial because they have guys that, if you give them a chance, they might not have a shot all game but all of the sudden you give them one and the put it in the back of the net.
“So, that was a good professional performance by our team seeing the game out and getting another clean sheet.
It was quite the theatrical entrance to the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs for Dempsey, who missed the first leg of the series after picking up a red card in Seattle’s regular season finale against the Colorado Rapids.
Then again, Dempsey seems to like it that way. The 34-year-old has made a career out of scoring on big stages at both the club and international level, a trait that isn’t lost on Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer.
“His finishing and his ability to just find goals in [big] moments is tremendous,” Schmetzer said. “Ever since he’s came here he’s scored some pretty big goals for this club and obviously you guys know the storyline of him scoring big goals for his country.
“So, we’re happy to have him and tonight was one of those textbook nights where he does what he does best.”