TUKWILA, Wash. — All signs point to Seattle Sounders newcomer Clint Dempsey making his first MLS start Saturday since signing his blockbuster Designated Player deal, thanks in part to a lingering injury for Obafemi Martins.
In the week following his nearly 60-minute performance off the bench, Dempsey was a full participant in training and head coach Sigi Schmid declared him “ready to start” against the Houston Dynamo (9 pm ET; MLS Live).
“It’s tough in the heat and humidity but he’s sort of used to that,” Schmid said during Thursday’s training session. “He grew up in Texas. It’s just a question of how many minutes. He’s a smart enough player that he knows how to manage his minutes.”
Martins, who suffered an ankle injury early during the Sounders’ 2-1 win over Toronto FC and had to be removed in place of Dempsey, was limited to riding the exercise bike during this week’s training sessions. Fellow forward Eddie Johnson will serve a one-game suspension against Houston for yellow-card accumulation.
That only seems to cement Dempsey’s spot in the starting lineup against the Dynamo – potentially alongside Lamar Neagle – which would make for a nice homecoming for the US international. Dempsey was born and raised about two hours away in the town of Nacogdoches, Texas, and he said he’ll be distributing about 40 tickets to friends and family to mark the occasion.
This would mark the first time he’s played any match in Texas since June 22, 2011, when he played for the US national team against Panama in front of more than 70,000 people at Reliant Stadium.
He hasn’t played against the Dynamo since the 2006 MLS Cup, when Houston topped Dempsey and the New England Revolution for the league title.
“Anytime you can play in front of family, it’s always nice,” said Dempsey, who has the state of Texas tattooed on his left arm. “You can see them after the game, that’s great. Texas is where it all began for me. It gave me the opportunity to play club ball and accomplish my dreams. I owe a lot to where I’m from.”
And despite being a native son, Dempsey doesn’t expect to receive a hero’s welcome.
“I’m sure some people will be happy to see me and some people will be looking forward to booing me, just like Toronto,” he said, recalling his debut last weekend. “That what comes along with it. I think it’s fun. It’s part of the game and what everybody has to deal with.
“If I was a Houston Dynamo fan I’d do the same thing. I’d want my team to win.”