TUKWILA, Wash. – It’s all come full circle for Clint Dempsey.
At this point, everyone knows the story. Last season, the Seattle Sounders’ star forward was relegated to the sidelines for six months after doctors detected an irregular heartbeat, rendering him unable to contribute as his teammates embarked on a remarkable championship run.
This season, Dempsey returned with a vengeance, leading the team with 12 goals in league play. Thus far, he’s played like a man possessed in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, scoring three more times in the Sounders’ four playoff matches.
For Dempsey, that leaves one more step: Helping the Sounders repeat in Saturday’s 2017 MLS Cup at BMO Field against the same Toronto FC team Seattle topped in penalty kicks a season ago.
“It’s tough to be on the sideline and not being on the field battling with your teammates,” Dempsey told reporters after Seattle’s final home practice of the season at Starfire Sports Complex on Wednesday. “But in saying that, they fought hard all through the playoffs, they deserved to be in the final and then they fought hard in the final. It was great to cheer them on and see them bring an MLS Cup to the city, which this city deserves. But I’m happy to be playing with the team this time and hopefully play a part in it.”
By all accounts, this Sounders team is much stronger and deeper than the bruised and battered unit that prevailed over Toronto at BMO Field last year. It’s something that defender Chad Marshall pointed out in the aftermath of Seattle’s Western Conference Championship victory over the Houston Dynamo, and a sentiment that Dempsey agreed with when he was asked on Wednesday.
“You don’t want to take anything away from what the team did last year,” he said. “They got the job done. So you can’t really talk about it until we get the job done this time. But in terms of depth, I feel like there’s a lot here. I’ve really enjoyed playing this season, it’s been fun with some of the new additions that we’ve brought [in]. I’m just looking forward to the final and giving it our best and I think if we do that we’ll get it done.
“I think we’ll be balanced,” he added. “I think with the weapons that we have, we should be able to create chances. But it’s a matter of doing it, it’s not talking about it.”
Saturday’s MLS Cup could very well be Dempsey’s last chance to be a key contributor on an MLS Cup-winning team. The Sounders announced last month that they had come to terms on a new contract with Dempsey that will keep him in Seattle at least through next season, but at 34 years old, Dempsey has no guarantees that the Sounders will make it to another final during his time in MLS.
It’s the type of opportunity that Dempsey envisioned when he signed with Seattle in 2013, and one he says he’s intent on making the most of come Saturday.
“Having the opportunity to write history is a great feeling,” Dempsey said. “This is what we wanted from the beginning of the year. It’s what we were hoping for, to have an opportunity to put ourselves in another final and try to repeat. It’s just important for us to play with confidence, to not feel too much pressure, just to go out and do the things that we’ve done to get to the final.
“If we keep playing how we’ve been in playoffs, I feel good about our chances.”