Sounders star forward Clint Dempsey says he's nearly all the way back as he prepares for a stint of exhibition games in South Carolina that will determine whether he starts the regular season with the team.
Clint Dempsey says he hasn’t spent his time away from soccer feeling sorry for himself. Sidelined for the season last September after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, Dempsey had to watch his Sounders team win the MLS Cup in a spectator role.
This winter, he’s battled back to the field for stints of 30 and 45 minutes in exhibition games thus far, with the prospect of more to come in an 11-day training camp stint for the team in Charleston, S.C. He’d like to play a few more seasons, but Dempsey, who turns 34 next month, insisted Tuesday he’s comfortable with his legacy in the sport and ready for whatever lies ahead.
“I feel good about everything,” he said, as the Sounders wrapped up training in Tukwila in preparation for Thursday’s trip to South Carolina. “I come from Nacogdoches, Texas. The first house I lived in was a trailer house in my grandma’s backyard, so I’ve come a long way. I’m able to have a family. Take care of my family. It’s one of the biggest blessings in the world. So, I’m at peace.”
He’s also ready to ramp things up in games. The Tucson portion of training camp, when he started games against Portland and San Jose, was more about reacclimating to the MLS pace of things. Now, the team wants to see whether he can go full-throttle for longer as he attempts to make it back for the start of the regular season.
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“I started off slow and had to work my way up,” Dempsey said. “I’m still working up now, but I think I’m finally getting close. I feel like I’m 85 percent, 90 percent back to full fitness.”
Dempsey said his time away wasn’t unlike dealing with any other injury. He had to focus on getting his body right — largely via more sleep and a better diet — and then not overdoing things when he didn’t feel right. He doesn’t want to delve too deeply into the private medical issue, but feels he did what was needed to make his body better.
“We have a good program,” he said. “I spoke with everybody and everybody is on the same page, whether it’s the doctors here or with the national team. Whether it’s the training staff here or in other places. Everybody’s on the same page in terms of how I should be progressing and as of right now, everything’s going great.”
Dempsey said it would be “awesome” and “a dream” to compete in a fourth World Cup next year, if the U.S. can qualify. He’s already spoken with U.S. Men’s National Team coach Bruce Arena about a possible return.
“Towards the end of the year, I got a chance to speak with him about everything that was going on,” Dempsey said. “We had a good talk. I owe a lot to Bruce, he’s the one that first picked me to be with the national team and to help me achieve my goal and dream as a kid to play in a World Cup and score in a World Cup.”
First, though, he has to get his game back up to speed with the Sounders — which he cites as his top priority. Last year, he partnered in a formidable attack triangle with Jordan Morris and mid-season addition Nicolas Lodeiro for a successful stretch in which Dempsey potted five goals in three games before being sidelined in late August.
“It was fun,” he said. “It (Lodeiro) was kind of the missing piece that we needed. I think everybody could see what Nico brings to the team, how he gets the ball moving and is able to make things happen a little bit more for us in the attacking third especially…but yeah, I’m looking forward to it. While we were all three playing together, I was having a great time.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer says the plan is to progress Dempsey slowly in South Carolina, to ensure everything is OK. Schmetzer added that if Dempsey, his doctors and the team are “100 percent sure” he can play without any setbacks, he will play the season opener in Houston next month.
“If he’s 100 percent healthy, OK, cleared everything…and I wouldn’t play him? I wouldn’t be doing my job.”