On Saturday in Houston, Clint Dempsey had become a spectacle.
He was part of all of the promotional materials distributed by the Dynamo as the match sold out with a crowd of 22,289 at BBVA Compass Stadium. In addition, his return to MLS was the focus of the MLS Insider show on NBC Sports the previous night.
An extra 40 tickets were distributed to his friends and family from nearby Nacogdoches, Texas, where he honed his craft during his youth.
It was his homecoming match, but Dempsey didn’t even need to make an effort to show that it was just like any other match for him in terms of his preparation.
“It was fine. You approach any game the same and try to prepare yourself to win,” he said after Sounders FC fell 3-1 for their first loss in the last five matches. “We had enough chances tonight that we should have scored more goals. We created chances, though, so I’m not frustrated with that aspect.”
Dempsey attempted four shots, matching Lamar Neagle for the team lead for the match and giving him nine shots in his first two matches. Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall made both of his saves on the night on shots from Dempsey and while he was unable to figure into the final scoreline, he was clearly a focal point for the Houston defense, as evidenced by the game-high four fouls Dempsey won.
“He’s clever and has good awareness and can turn himself out of some tight situations. He found himself on the end of some good looks. He makes good late runs,” Dynamo Head Coach Dominic Kinnear said after the match. “As long as we’re aware of him and make sure we got pressure when he got the ball that was the job.”
Individually, Dempsey was able to play for 90 minutes – no small task in the Texas heat – and was a catalyst for Seattle throughout the night. As he inches closer to full strength, he has become more and more influential in Sounders FC’s attack.
And he has shown that there is still more to come from his arsenal.
“You’ve got to play games to get fitness. So far, I’ve only played two competitive games since I was off with the national team. It’s good to get my first 90 minutes and the fitness is getting there,” he said. “I’m still working on that sharpness. That final shot in front of goal. I was lacking a little there tonight and I’d like to think that I could have put at least one of those opportunities away.”
The 3-1 defeat was far from the ideal result for Sounders FC, but getting Dempsey his first start for the club was a giant step toward what Head Coach Sigi Schmid envisions as a team to compete for MLS Cup at the end of the year.
“We’ve just got to keep working hard. The next game is always the most important game. You’ve got to pick yourself up. We’ve got to maximize our points from here on out,” Dempsey said. “We want to make sure to make the playoffs. If you don’t make playoffs, then you can’t push for the MLS Cup.”
Dempsey will have another first on Sunday when he makes his first appearance for Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field as Seattle hosts the Portland Timbers in a match that will feature a standing room only crowd of over 66,500.