TUKWILA, Wash. – When it comes to Clint Dempsey, sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.
The Seattle Sounders found that out again in their Decision Day bout with the Colorado Rapids, a match that saw them win 3-0 but also lose Dempsey to a first-half red card. The ejection means their star forward and leading scorer will be suspended for the first leg of their upcoming Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoff series at Vancouver on Sunday (7:30 pm ET; ESPN in the US | TSN1/4, TVAS2).
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters on Tuesday that he had privately discussed the play with Dempsey, who was tossed by referee Chris Penso in the 23rd minute of Sunday’s contest after he appeared to catch Colorado defender Mike da Fonte in the head area with a high elbow.
“I spoke with [Dempsey] and he does have remorse for the play. He told me what happened,” Schmetzer said. “The guy [da Fonte] kind of got him in the eye on the first little play and then he was trying to shove him out of the way and his elbow slipped up a little high. It was not a deliberate cocked elbow, I think everybody could see that.
“We spoke about how important he is to the team and to the group and that he needs to make sure that he is aware of that kind of stuff that goes on.”
Dempsey has always played the game with a bit of a ruthless streak. His competitive drive and win-at-all-costs disposition are a big reason why he’s a US soccer icon – arguably the most lethal scorer the country has ever produced.
But it also sometimes gets him into trouble. He was suspended for two games in 2014 for a shot to the groin on then-Toronto FC defender Mark Bloom and was ejected from a match against FC Dallas last season for making contact with the face of a defender. He was also infamously red carded in a fourth-round US Open Cup match against Portland in 2015 for tearing up a referee’s notebook.
“I want my guys to play hard,” Schmetzer said. “I absolutely want them to play hard. One of the reasons why Clint Dempsey is who he is, is because he plays hard. And sometimes when you play on the edge there, you make some mistakes.”
Schmetzer also said that he feels as though Dempsey can be a target for excessively physical play from opponents. He’s made that same contention about star midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who was goaded into a retaliatory red card of his own by D.C. United’s Marcelo Sarvas earlier this season.
For Schmetzer, coaching Dempsey means trying to manage those emotions when heated situations come about. That can be easier said than done.
“Would I love for Clint to have made a different decision? Yes, absolutely,” Schmetzer said. “And he will admit culpability. But at the same time, he gets kicked every game. He’s got a target on his back, maybe because they know he’s got a temper. And Nico has a target on his back sometimes, we’ve been discussing that on and off throughout the year. So there’s a fine balance there.
“We’re moving on from it,” he added. “Nothing we can do about it now. The team is resilient enough and we’ve talked about it: We’re not going to let one play define a season. We’re too good of a team and franchise for that.”