Sounders "cautiously optimistic" about Clint Dempsey returning in 2016

Clint Dempsey - Seattle Sounders

TUKWILA, Wash. – Almost three weeks after it was announced that he would be sidelined indefinitely to undergo a medical evaluation for an irregular heartbeat, Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey made a much-anticipated return to the practice field on Wednesday at Starfire Soccer Complex.

But although Dempsey’s return to training can be considered a positive development, a timeline for when he could be back on the field has yet to be determined.

“[Dempsey] has had a procedure to address some of the issues associated with [the irregular heartbeat],” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey told reporters following Wednesday's practice. “We are not at liberty to disclose anything further from a medical perspective.

“I will add that we are cautiously optimistic that he could return to play this season. So to be clear, he’s been cleared to return to training, to exercise, but he has not been medically cleared to play yet. We don’t have a timetable for that and we won’t because we’re going to prioritize his health. When Clint feels better and the doctors feel that it’s safe, then we will consider his return to playing.”

Lagerwey stressed that the Sounders will focus on monitoring how the 33-year-old US national team striker progresses before making a decision on a next step. This season, Dempsey has scored eight goals and delivered two assists in 17 regular-season appearances.

“When you have a medical condition like this, you don’t want to put false pressure on a return,” Lagerwey said. “You can’t just say, ‘Clint’s important to us.’ You have to mean it. And if you mean it, then that means his health comes first and that means there’s no timetable by definition. You have to wait and see if or when he’s healthy and ready to come back.”

Despite the lack of a concrete timeline, both Lagerwey and Seattle interim head coach Brian Schmetzer noted that Dempsey seemed to be in good spirits and his mere presence made for a positive atmosphere at Wednesday’s training session. The Sounders are gearing up to play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday (4 pm ET; TSN1 in Canada and MLS LIVE in the US).

“I’m just in a really good mood,” Schmetzer said. “I think it’s really positive news. I’m just really happy, the players are really happy and you could see that translate into training today.

“It lifts the mood. ... He’s a big personality, he’s ultra positive and he’s happy to be back here. Everything in that sense is good.”