Wiebe: Seattle Sounders, US must step up in wake of Clint Dempsey news

Here’s what we know: Clint Dempsey is undergoing medical evaluations for an irregular heartbeat. The Seattle and US national team star will miss Sunday’s rivalry match in Portland between the Sounders and Timbers as well as the US national team’s World Cup qualifiers in September. No additional details are available at this time, and there is no public timetable for his return.

In situations like this, what we don’t know is just as, if not more, important than what we do know. “Irregular heartbeat” sounds serious, scary even, but Dempsey – and the rest of us – can do nothing but allow the medical process play out at its own pace.

It’s time for perspective. We may support different clubs and different national teams, but we’re all members of the North American soccer family. Life is bigger than sport.

Of course, while Dempsey and his family navigate a trying time, the games will go on. The Sounders will travel to Portland for a massive match against the Timbers, and then proceed with their remaining schedule. The USMNT will gather next week to resume their quest to qualify for an eighth straight World Cup.

What role Dempsey will play in either campaign is yet to be seen, but there’s no doubt any prolonged absence will have a very real effect on both squads.

After spending much of the first half of 2016 adjusting to the preseason departure of strike partner Obafemi Martins, Dempsey seemed to be reinvigorated by the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro. He scored a hat trick in the Uruguayan’s second match then added two more goals against Portland last Sunday to bring his season tally to eight.

Deuce – and his swagger – was back.

Suddenly a playoff spot that seemed close to inconceivable a month ago wasn’t just possible but increasingly likely. With Lodeiro pulling the strings and Jordan Morris bullying opposing defenders with his strength and speed, Dempsey appeared poised to do what he’s done throughout his entire career: deliver in big moments.

Then Friday’s news hit and the future – Dempsey’s and the Sounders’ – became murky.

For the time being, Dempsey’s teammates have no choice but to do something Dempsey has done more than once in his career: step up. Lodeiro must shoulder the expectations that’ve come with two goals and four assists in his first four games. Morris will have to become a more reliable finisher. Herculez Gomez and Nelson Valdez can’t let a bone-dry 25 matches color their final nine.

For the USMNT, Jurgen Klinsmann will need to find another option as reliable and consistent at putting the ball in the back of the next as Dempsey has been for his country. After all, despite his age, Dempsey is the USMNT’s leading scorer over the last three years.

Who’s the US alpha dog now? Who will score the goals they need against St. Vincent and the Grenadines to avoid a nervy final matchday? Will it be Jozy Altidore, healthy and productive again after another hamstring injury rule him out of this summer’s Copa America Centenario? Perhaps Bobby Wood, who’s shown so much promise in the past year?

For both the US and the Sounders, there’s an inevitable domino effect that comes with a certain level of reliance on one player. If not Dempsey, then who?

We’ll find out the answer to that question this weekend in Portland, and on Sept. 2 and 6 in Kingstown, St. Vincent, and Jacksonville, Florida.

In the meantime, get well, Deuce. Your health is more important than a game.  

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