Sounders forward Clint Dempsey got "back to scoring ways'' against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday after being sidelined with an irregular heartbeat last August and missing out on the team's championship run
HOUSTON – For more than half a year, star Sounders forward Clint Dempsey had waited to join the party.
He’d watched from the sidelines as his teammates reeled off an improbable run last fall just to make the Major League Soccer playoffs. Then, hanging on by a thread at times without the onetime U.S. Men’s National Team captain, they upended one favorite after another to win the franchise’s first MLS Cup championship.
All the while, Dempsey remained shelved with an irregular heartbeat that no doubt sapped some of the firsthand thrill of that title win, but also threatened to end his career at age 33. So, when Dempsey took the field to start Saturday’s game against the Houston Dynamo, it was with a joy he’d long awaited.
“It was just fun to be back playing the game you love and getting back to competing at the highest level,’’ Dempsey said. “It’s good to join back up with the guys that had done so well last season.’’
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The result in a 2-1 loss to the Dynamo was secondary. For the Sounders to repeat as champions, they’ll need their leader back at his best. And while that may not happen for a while, the early returns were encouraging.
Dempsey played the full 90 minutes plus three minutes of stoppage time. He hadn’t gone more than 80 minutes in preseason action, so anything beyond that – especially at the pace this game was played early on – stands out notably.
“I felt good,’’ he said. “I’m still trying to get to my top level. I’m not there yet. But I think if you watched the preseason it’s been a steady progression and I look to be hopefully better next game.’’
Dempsey even poached a goal in the 58th minute. Dynamo keeper Tyler Deric had swatted away a good Joevin Jones chance from the left side. But Dempsey stood Johnny-on-the-spot to the right to tap in the rebound before Deric could fully recover.
“I was just able to get a good first touch on it and try to place it in the corner,’’ Dempsey said. “I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to be able to get a lean into that.’’
Scoring was something Dempsey had started doing often last August right before his heart condition ended his season early. Teamed with striker Jordan Morris and new midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro for four matches, Dempsey netted five goals in the final three contests.
That’s spurred plenty of fantasizing by Sounders fans of what their championship team might look like with the trio together an entire season. Morris should have had a goal on a 25th minute cross from Jones, but “just missed it” as the ball rolled on by him at the goalmouth.
Later, in a resurgent second half by the Sounders, Lodeiro had a chance from the right edge of the box but the ball was deflected away at the last instant. Still, one goal by Dempsey and what could have easily been three by the trio wasn’t the worst start.
“For me, personally, after being out for so long, to be able to get back to scoring ways, it always feels good,’’ Dempsey said. “That’s what I was brought here to do. To help try to create goals for this team.
And he can’t do that from the sidelines. If anything, a torrid opening 20 minutes of counterattacks by a revamped Houston front proved a fine test if the Sounders were at all worried about Dempsey withstanding a regular season game’s pace.
“I probably ran him out a little bit longer than I needed to,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “But that’s my decision. That’s something Clint and I discussed. If he’s ready to go 90 minutes. It was a good goal. It was a timely goal. We just needed someone to get one more.”
Now, with their offensive catalyst back, the Sounders can worry about taking their own pace to opponents with a little more force early on.