TUKWILA, Wash. – It’s never easy to replace a legend. But as the Seattle Sounders returned to the practice field at Starfire Sports Complex on Tuesday coming off their bye week for the FIFA international break, that’s exactly the task in front of them.
The Sounders said goodbye to their most high-profile player when star forward and US national team icon Clint Dempsey officially announced his retirement from professional soccer on August 29. The days that followed were a whirlwind of tributes from across the sports world, including a lengthy pregame ceremony before Seattle’s 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 1.
Now that the dust has settled, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said it’s back to business, with the focus turning to extending the club’s MLS single-season record eight-game winning streak in a Cascadia Cup clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place on Saturday (10 pm ET | TSN2 – Full TV and streaming info).
“I think [the team] handled it with the class, the dignity, the appreciation that Clint deserved and also that the team deserved,” Schmetzer said after Tuesday’s practice. “I know Clint made a bunch of comments as well about wishing the team well and all that sort of stuff. So, I think both sides handled it in the most respectful fashion and I actually didn’t expect anything less.”
Following the retirement announcement, Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer said he would be open to having Dempsey stay around the team in some capacity if he desires. However, Dempsey is also famously private and family-oriented, and has never publicly expressed an interest in remaining in the game as a coach or assistant.
In other words, it might actually be goodbye, meaning Seattle also have to replace a big presence in the locker room, in addition to one of their most lethal goalscorers.
“I don’t know [his plans] but I hope he’s catching a lot of fish somewhere or just taking time with his family,” Schmetzer said. “He’ll always be a big part of this franchise and it was a big announcement. But the players, they know they have a job to do and they accomplished that against Sporting KC.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Sounders are currently in the midst of a historic run of form that has seen them go unbeaten in their last 11 matches. Newly-signed Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz has soaked up much of the offensive load and the Sounders are also playing lockdown defense, with just six goals conceded across those 11 undefeated matches.
All of that has led to positive vibes at Starfire ahead of Saturday’s match in Vancouver, where both the Cascadia Cup trophy (which the Sounders can clinch with a win) and Western Conference playoff positioning are on the line as the Sounders get the post-Dempsey era officially underway.
“Look, it was world news,” Schmetzer said. “Clint was an exceptional player an exceptional personality and a big part of this franchise’s history now. And, yes, it was a big announcement. The challenge has been to make sure that they’re focused on the next match.
“I think we’ve accomplished that, I think guys are [thinking], ‘Ok, yeah, he’s gone. But let’s keep this train moving.’”