TORONTO – The Clint Dempsey era with Sounders FC began with a false start.
As social media lit up to MLS’s newest star trotting onto the field, the recent Seattle acquisition was suddenly called back to the sideline by the referee. He had gone onto the field too soon; officials had to fix the substitution board first.
“They were trying to get the numbers right,” Dempsey said. “There was a malfunction with it.”
So a 33rd-minute substitution was pushed back to the 34th, essentially the only hiccup in what the 30-year-old called “all in all, a good debut.”
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Dempsey finished with a team-high five shots in Saturday’s 2-1 road win against Toronto FC and made an instant impact upon replacing forward Obafemi Martins, who suffered a left ankle injury.
Two minutes after coming in, Dempsey found himself on a near-breakaway, but Toronto defender Ashtone Morgan pushed him off the ball at the last second.
Dempsey had plenty of other promising chances, including a quick spin-move in the 70th minute that led to a long-range shot, requiring a diving save from goalkeeper Joe Bendik
“For a guy in his first game of the season … he looked sharp,” said forward Eddie Johnson. “In a couple more weeks, those shots will turn into goals.”
Coach Sigi Schmid added that once Dempsey gets a rhythm going with the Sounders, “it will make a big difference.
“His understanding with our players and our guys is something that will grow, as well,” Schmid added. “We ended up having to bring him in a little bit sooner than we expected, but I was happy with him.”
Dempsey was in his preseason with Tottenham when acquired by Seattle, which led to a role off the bench Saturday. The injury to Martins pressed the U.S. national team captain into service without much warning, so Schmid told Dempsey to pace himself.
Playing time was a bit of a release after a hectic week.
“There has been a lot of talk, a lot of speculation, there’s been a lot of media, but for me, what I enjoy is being on the field and playing,” said Dempsey, whose last appearance in MLS was the 2006 championship game. “…When you’re on the field, you’re at home.”