Clint Dempsey provided Seattle with the only goals of the two-game series in the Western Conference semifinals, thus propelling the Sounders into the MLS final four.
First name Clint. Last name Dempsey. Probably the most prominent American soccer player of the decade.
He’s been a national-team hero. Perhaps the most distinguished face of Major League Soccer. And he just reminded everyone why he rose to his level of fame.
In the 56th minute of Thursday night’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Sounders forward Clint Dempsey scored on a left-footed strike placed in the right corner of the net. He followed up with another goal in the 88th minute, finishing on a cross from midfielder Victor Rodriguez. He provided Seattle with the only goals of the two-game series in the Western Conference semifinals, thus propelling the Sounders into the MLS final four.
Dempsey has had his share of visible goals throughout his career. He was a key figure of the 2010 and 2014 U.S. national team, where his proficiency on the international stage helped him net his seven-figure MLS salary. Still, it had been a while since he netted a crucial score for his local club. But Thursday night, in typical fashion, he played the hero.
“It felt good for us to get the win, and to move on,” said Dempsey, who missed the first leg of the two-game series due to a red card vs. Colorado last month. “Any time you can play in a game and help your team, it feels good.”
Without Dempsey, the defending MLS champions’ season might very well have been over and done with. His goals in his team’s 2-0 victory is the reason Seattle is in the conference finals.
You have to figure he had been aching for a moment like that. Despite being the Sounders’ best player last year, Dempsey was forced to sit out during the squad’s championship run due to an irregular heartbeat.
As joyful as it might be to watch your teammates raise the MLS Cup, it has to be a humbling experience knowing they did it without you. Well, this time, they couldn’t have done it without No. 2.
Dempsey wasn’t just an asset — he was a necessity.
The Sounders entered the game in a precarious situation. After tying the Whitecaps 0-0 in the teams’ first meeting Sunday, Seattle could ill afford to allow a goal. The tiebreaker goes to the squad that scores the most away goals, meaning if there was a draw, and it was anything but 0-0, the Whitecaps would have advanced.
For a while, it looked as though that might be a possibility. Dominant as they were throughout the match, the Sounders struggled to get a clear shot on goal.
Had it gone to extra time and/or penalty kicks, Vancouver might have dethroned the defending champs.
Dempsey made sure that didn’t happen.
After somewhat of a down year in 2016, Clint has lived up to his $8 million salary this season. He entered the game with a team-high 12 goals, one more than teammate Will Bruin. And he added two more in dramatic fashion, single-handedly carrying the Sounders to the conference championship series, where they await either Portland or Houston.
It was clear he was thrilled about it, too.
His first goal sent the home crowd into hysterics. His second goal felt like somewhat of a victory lap, but enthused the 39,587 in attendance nonetheless.
“His finishing and his ability to find goals in moments is tremendous,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of Dempsey. “Tonight was one of those textbook nights where he shows up and does what he does best.”
The dearth in scoring made it feel like Seattle might not get a chance to defend its title. Then Dempsey reminded everyone why the Sounders are always a threat in the postseason.
This year has been similar to last year in many respects. The team started slowly, then made a push in the second half, and now finds itself two rounds from winning the title once more. There was a point in 2016 where the Sounders were in ninth place in the conference. They were out of the playoff fold for much of the season this year.
Doesn’t matter. They play their best when the most is on the line, and their best player does the same.
Thursday wasn’t the prettiest game. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing whatsoever. But Seattle got the victory, and its most talented and prominent player is the reason why.