TORONTO – Clint Dempsey and Drew Moor grew up in the same North Texas youth soccer scene, spent an NCAA season together at Furman University and are integral veteran leaders of the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC squads that will contest the 2017 MLS Cup on Saturday.
They also share a sobering, career-threatening health scare.
Dempsey’s 2016 season was cut short by an irregular heartbeat that sidelined him during the Sounders’ unlikely MLS Cup title run and eventually required two surgical procedures to remedy. Less than a year later, Moor found himself in the same predicament, and his fellow Texan was the first person he sought out.
“He sent me a text and wanted to have a conversation,” Dempsey explained in Seattle’s press conference on Thursday.
The two spoke for about half an hour, the former sharing his experiences about the road ahead in a chat Moor appreciated greatly. It helped guide him toward a path to recovery, as he underwent a corrective surgery of his own last spring and soon returned to the core of the TFC defense as the Reds rolled to the Supporters’ Shield with a landmark regular-season campaign.
“It’s good to see him back out on the field,” said Dempsey. “It’s always scary to have any type of heart issue, but I was glad that we were able to talk about it and maybe make his decision a little bit easier.”
Now both players have a special perspective as they soak up their return trip to the championship match, their heart problems driving home the brevity and fragility of their playing careers like few other experiences could.
“Any time you miss time, whether it’s an injury or something like what I dealt with earlier this year, you think about if you’ll be the same,” Moor said on Wednesday. “It just reminds you how much you love the game, how much you love being on the field and competing, being in the locker room. What it reminded me of was how long I wanted to play this game.”
Dempsey is 34, and Moor will reach that number with his birthday next month. Both were already conscious of the fleeting passage of time before their careers were put on hold. And both are determined to squeeze every last drop out of their final years on the pitch.
“Because you’re able to still compete at a high level, make an impact and play the game that you love for a little bit longer,” said Dempsey. “So from that aspect you do appreciate it a little bit more.
“But I’ve kind of been someone who’s always not really taken much for granted. I’ve always been racing against time, feeling like I started a little bit later than some of my peers. But I’m happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish and there’s more work to be done.”
Even though he was still a part of the team, Dempsey did not fully experience last year’s cup-winning thrill and is determined to do so this time around. As one of TFC’s most respected leaders, Moor keenly feels the hunger to mend last year’s heartbreak on home soil, and to return to the pinnacle he reached as part of the Colorado Rapids side that defeated FC Dallas, also at BMO Field, in MLS Cup 2010.
Only one can get what they seek when they face off head-to-head on Saturday. Yet the simple joys along the way are worth savoring, too.
“You just get so excited – this is what we’re here for,” Moor told the media scrum at TFC's Kia Training Ground. “MLS Cup finals, you never know how many you’re going to be in, if you’re going to be in any at all. And so for me, you act like it’s your first and you enjoy every moment – these kind of moments, the days leading up to it, the training sessions, the meals together. It’s why we play.”
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LISTEN: The 2017 MLS season comes down to this... Seattle vs. Toronto, an MLS Cup rematch that might just be the best final of all-time, depending on who you ask. Will the Sounders repeat? Will the Reds lay claim the best season of all-time? David Gass and Sam Stejskal get things started from the Six, and Andrew and Matt finish things off from the Green Room back in NYC. Subscribe so you never miss a show! Download this episode!