Clint Dempsey joins country's best as beautiful game goes virtual at FIFA Interactive World Cup

SEATTLE – Clint Dempsey doesn’t get to play much FIFA these days.

In another life, the Seattle Sounders forward says he would pick up a controller on a semi-regular basis to test his skills on the virtual soccer field against trash-talking teammates.

Now, he has other responsibilities.

“I used to play a lot more before I got married and had four kids,” Dempsey said. “I enjoy playing it when I get a chance, but it’s just the time. I don’t have a lot of time.”

This past weekend, Dempsey got some time to recapture a small slice of his former FIFA-related glory. The 32-year-old – who starred alongside Lionel Messi on the American version of EA Sports’ FIFA 15 – was featured as a special guest at the FIFA Interactive World Cup on Saturday, hosted by the Sounders at ‘The Ninety’ – the team’s gathering space in downtown Seattle.

The FIWC is the largest gaming tournament in the world, with this year’s iteration starting with a pool of 2.3 million online contestants. The top eight made it to Saturday’s Host Country Qualifier in Seattle, with the winner earning a trip to represent the United States at the Grand Final and a chance to win $20,000 at the virtual soccer World Cup in New York City on March 20.

Brian Jaldin, a 21-year-old Arlington, Va.-native, was the victorious contestant, punching his ticket to New York with a commanding 4-1 victory playing as Spanish superpower Real Madrid in the final round. Dempsey was on hand for a congratulatory post-match photo shoot with Jaldin, and the two played a half of FIFA.

The event also featured a local connection for the Sounders as 17-year-old Skye Rozon, from nearby Tacoma, was one of the eight contestants to play in the Host Country Qualifier.

Rozan qualified after winning the SonarFeed FIFA Tournament in January, a local tournament that acted as a fundraiser for the foundation of former Sounders and current DC United winger Lamar Neagle. This year, the SonarFeed Tournament raised more than $11,000 for the Neagle Foundation, which aims to support youth athletics and academics in the Seattle area.

“It was a pretty cool experience,” Rozan said of his journey to the Host Country Qualifier. “I mean, these guys are some of the best FIFA players in the world. So it’s cool to get to play against them.”

Jaldin will now get to test his FIFA skills on an international level. Next month’s Grand Final will feature 31 other top players from around the world, all of whom have a chance to dethrone defending FIWC champion Abdulziz Alshehri of Saudi Arabia.

As for Dempsey, he can now revert his focus back to doing his damage on the real soccer field and not the virtual one. But the star forward said Saturday’s festivities still brought plenty of fond early-career memories to the surface.

“The first console I was on was a Nintendo,” Dempsey said. “Just to see the graphics now that you see on Xbox and Playstation, it’s pretty incredible.

“Being able to be on your first game, even though your ratings are down because you haven’t proven yourself, it’s still pretty exciting. As a kid, that’s what you dreamed about. You hoped that you’d be one of the players that other kids are maybe using in the game if you’re lucky enough to get that far.”