As they head into a two-week break from MLS play, Seattle Sounders FC still don’t know how long they’ll have to make do without Clint Dempsey.
Dempsey was ruled out in the days leading up to Sunday's 4-2 away loss to the Portland Timbers – and also for the United States' upcoming round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers – as he underwent a medical evaluation for an irregular heartbeat. The absence loomed predictably large for Seattle, as the Sounders’ resurgent attack of recent weeks sputtered on Sunday – particularly in the first half.
After the loss, interim head coach Brian Schmetzer said he didn’t have any updates on Dempsey’s condition but did note the obvious on-field implications that came without the services of his star forward.
“It was a challenge. I’ll put it that way,” Schmetzer said “That’s something we’re not going to shy away from. It’s a challenge to create opportunities and shots. I’m looking at the stats and, in the first half we only created four. Clint would have helped. I know he would have helped.
“At the end of the day, we need to just continue to try and figure out the right personnel, the right formation to help in Clint’s absence.”
The loss of Dempsey was particularly ill-timed for Seattle, given his recent form that had seen him score five goals in his previous three games. Aside from that goalscoring prowess, rookie striker Jordan Morris said a Dempsey-less lineup also has a ripple effect on the rest of Seattle’s attackers, including newcomer Nicolás Lodeiro.
“Teams can kind of key in on Nico more when he’s not here, so that gives [Lodeiro] a little bit less space and time to operate,” Morris said. “So that makes it tough for him. He likes to find those balls in behind, so that obviously also makes it tougher for me. When you have one less attacker like that on the field, it always makes it a little bit tougher.”
The Sounders have stressed that Dempsey’s personal health and well-being take obvious precedent over a return to the pitch. In the meantime, Schmetzer said, Seattle’s next course of action will be using the upcoming break to try and develop a more effective contingency plan.
“It gives us a little bit of time to perhaps solve the Clint dilemma, so we can do a little bit more there,” he said. “He’s a tremendous goal-scorer. We will miss that. It just comes back to how we manufacture enough quality chances.
"We have to make sure the quality of the chances we create with the group that we have can help us sustain some wins and some good results until Clint comes back.”