TUKWILA, Wash. – Trying to draw definitive conclusions four games in to the MLS season can often be an exercise in futility. But for the Seattle Sounders, the start of their 2017 campaign has yielded at least one takeaway that seems like a fairly safe bet.
Clint Dempsey is back. And he’s still Clint Dempsey.
After missing the latter half of 2016 due to an irregular heartbeat, Dempsey has two goals in Seattle’s first four MLS matches. He’s also coming off a ballistic showing for the US men’s national team that saw him score four times across two World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama last week.
“He’s in really good spirits,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said this week. “Happy to be back. Happy to contribute any way he can. You guys saw his words in the press after the game [against Panama].
“I mean, Clint’s in a really good spot.”
Speaking with reporters after Seattle’s practice at Starfire Sports Complex on Thursday, Dempsey said he was pleased with his strong early-season returns following the long layoff.
After entering Seattle’s scoreless draw against Atlanta United FC last Friday as a second-half substitute, the 34-year-old was a one-man highlight reel, showcasing his full arsenal of pickup-style tricks – something he attributed to a comfort level he says is increasing all the time.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Dempsey said. “I feel like I’m progressing and getting more comfortable being on the pitch. When you’re more confident, I think you express yourself even more. It was fun to be out there.”
Dempsey also said he believes there’s still another frontier to be reached as far as chemistry with his fellow attackers as he continues to integrate himself back into the fold, including with midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and forward Jordan Morris.
“I think the best is still yet to come,” he said. “In MLS, right now, at this stage in the season, everybody’s still building. Every team isn’t at its peak. You don’t want to hit your peak until it gets later in the season. But, yeah, I’m feeling good.”
With his place on the national team seemingly firmly re-established, Dempsey now has his sights set on history. The four goals in last week’s World Cup qualifiers brought his USMNT career total to 56 – leaving him one shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time record of 57.
It’s a milestone that Dempsey says is in the back of his mind, although he added that continuing to help get the USMNT back on track in the CONCACAF Hexagonal is still his foremost objective.
“[The record] is something that’s there but it’s not the most important thing,” Dempsey said. “The most important thing is qualifying for the World Cup. If you go in and you perform everything else takes care of itself in that regard. But it is something I’m aware of.”