Sounders pay tribute to sidelined Dempsey's role in "sparking" MLS Cup run

TUKWILA, Wash. – Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, out since August with an irregular heartbeat, won’t be taking the field when his team plays Toronto FC in the MLS Cup final at BMO Field on Dec. 10 (8 pm ET; FOX, UniMas, TSN1/3/4, RDS).

Dempsey, sporting a full beard, has been spotted periodically at Seattle’s training sessions during the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, jogging lightly with team trainers.

But Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer squashed whatever faint notion there may have been of an MLS Cup comeback for the 33-year-old US national team star when a reporter inquired about such a possibility last week.

“Clint’s a good storyline because he’s the best field player this country has produced,” Schmetzer said. “But no [he won’t play in MLS Cup]. We would love to have him, but no.”

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But even without the services of their dynamic striker, Schmetzer says that Dempsey’s fingerprints are still all over the remarkable second half of the season that saw the Sounders skyrocket up the Western Conference table and vanquish all three of their postseason opponents.

Specifically, Schmetzer pointed to Seattle’s road matchup with Orlando City SC back on August 7. Going into that game, the Sounders were 6-12-3, near the bottom of the Western Conference table and still trying to integrate newly-acquired midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who made his team debut just a week prior.

Dempsey exploded for a hat trick that day, pacing Seattle to a 3-1 blowout in one of their more dominant all-around performances of the season. In effect, Schmetzer says, that match gave the Sounders the pulse they needed, acting as the catalyst for the historic turnaround that would follow.

“I think there was a moment in that Orlando game when Dempsey was still here,” Schmetzer told reporters on Friday. “I mean, that game, we played some of our best soccer. It was exciting. They were fired up. Jordan [Morris] was going, Nico was there, Dempsey was scoring. I thought that was a game where the team really played at a high level.

“I was talking to Clint about that the other day. He was part of that spark to get us on the roll. Obviously, it was depressing to lose him. But he was involved in that game and it kind of sparked the whole group.”

Aside from his practice cameos, Dempsey has also been seen taking in Seattle’s home playoff games at CenturyLink Field as a spectator. For their part, the Sounders have said that they hope their star forward will be ready to take the field next season, although the nature of the condition make the situation a delicate and challenging one.

“We just hope to have him back,” said midfielder Cristian Roldan. “But it’s his heart. It’s something more serious than just an ankle injury. We just want to get him back on the field and we see him healthy for his family’s sake. Hopefully we get him back next year.”