The Seattle Sounders' star forward and US national team legend would probably never admit that he has any sort of special affinity for scoring against a particular opponent. But the numbers certainly seem to support the notion that Dempsey does his best work against his club’s undisputed biggest rival.
Going into Sunday’s massive Cascadia Cup fixture between the sides at CenturyLink Field, a Heineken Rivalry Week clash at 9:30 p.m. ET (FS1, FOX Deportes; MLS LIVE in Canada), Dempsey has nine goals in nine career matches against Portland – his most against any opponent at the club or international level.
“I just like playing in big games,” Dempsey told reporters following Seattle’s Friday practice at Starfire Sports Complex. “Any time you can have bragging rights and play for the city, there’s always a little bit more incentive there. …You get up for [these games]. You want to represent yourself well and show your passion for the club and try to get the win for your team.”
Dempsey’s goal-scoring exploits against the Timbers aren’t just notable due to the sheer numbers, but also for his habit of scoring them in the game’s biggest moments.
He famously netted a hat trick to salvage a miracle 4-4 draw at Providence Park in 2014, for example. And when the sides met in Portland earlier this season, he headed home a dramatic equalizer at the death to improbably level the contest 2-2 in a game where the Sounders played with 10 men for the entire second half.
“You guys know the record better than I do, but he does love scoring against Portland,” said Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, after that last-gasp leveler on June 25. “Why? I have no idea. He’s a competitive guy.”
Dempsey’s latest chance to further cement his status as Portland’s chief arch-nemesis comes at a time as the Sounders are looking to continue their recent torrid run of form that has seen them go unbeaten in a club-record 10 consecutive matches.
“We’re in a rhythm, with confidence and communication there and good chemistry. We’re moving the ball well and I just feel like we’re in a good place,” Dempsey said. ”We have a lot of competition for spots so that’s pushing the quality and making sure the quality stays high on the team. It’s starting to become more difficult for [Schmetzer] to make decisions because of all the quality that’s here.”
This match carries even more weight than your average Sounders-Timbers fixture, given where the teams currently sit on the Western Conference table. Seattle currently lay claim to the top spot in the West with 41 points from 26 matches but are just one point ahead of Portland going into of Sunday’s match, something Dempsey said makes for a golden opportunity to gain more separation in the standings.
“It’s always exciting to play against them,” Dempsey said. “It’ll be a great atmosphere. But it’s a game that also means a lot because of where we sit on the table. We’ve got to make sure we get the right result and stay ahead of them.”