PORTLAND – Clint Dempsey doesn’t get used in a sparkplug substitute role all that frequently.
But with his team dealing with fixture congestion and Dempsey coming off US national team duty, Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer chose to deploy his star striker as exactly that in Seattle’s Cascadia Cup derby against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Sunday.
“The issue was is he was with the national team and he only had like a day or two of rest in Seattle. Then he had to fly to New York and play on a very heavy pitch,” Schmetzer explained to reporters after the game. “Then his physical output against Orlando [on Wednesday] was the most he’s had all season.
“We just said, ‘Look, it’s going to be hot, let’s take some of the sting out of the game, and I’ll use you as we see the game fit.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, anything. Whatever for the team.’”
Dempsey may not have started Sunday’s match, but he certainly finished it off in grand fashion after entering in the 56th minute.
The 34-year-old headed home a dramatic equalizer deep into second-half stoppage time to salvage a 2-2 draw for the Sounders, who played the entire second half down a man due to a 44th-minute red card on right back Brad Evans.
The desperation tally gave Seattle an improbable point and also marked Dempsey’s ninth career goal in nine games against the Timbers – his most against any MLS opponent.
“It feels good. I guess that’s what it must feel like to slam dunk in a game,” Dempsey said. “Just going up for it and getting everything you have on it and putting it on frame, in a big game like this against our rivals and to get a point with a man down, that’s something these fans will remember.”
Dempsey downplayed the notion that he takes any sort of special satisfaction in scoring against Portland, saying that he “likes scoring against everybody.”
But he did admit that the bigger stage that comes with Seattle-Portland added some extra luster to his latest tally, adding that Sunday’s result also carries some weight as the Sounders look to move up the Western Conference table.
“I like to score in big games and this is considered a big game because of the rivalry,” Dempsey said. “You want to step up, you want to help the team have a good season and turn things around because we’re not where we want to be [in the standings]. Last game [against Orlando], we had a draw that felt like a loss. This week we have a draw that feels like a win.”