For just over a half-hour on Saturday, Sounders FC fans got a further glimpse into the immediate future of the club as U.S. National Team captain Clint Dempsey looked to put his stamp on the season-opening match against Sporting Kansas City.
With Dempsey serving as a withdrawn forward after he came into the match in the 57th minute, Seattle was decidedly more dangerous in the attack and managed five shots in Dempsey’s time on the field, including four in the final two minutes of regulation plus stoppage time. That autonomy to create while buoyed to a forward position created some opportunities for Sounders FC to pressure Kansas City in the attacking third and ultimately helped lead to the game-winning goal in stoppage time.
“I get freedom to move around and impact the game in whatever way I can,” Dempsey said. “I found some good spots on the field and was able to make some plays happen and, like I said, was happy to play a part in the goal.”
Last year, Dempsey played at the head of a diamond-shaped midfield and Seattle had moments of offensive brilliance, but Seattle Head Coach Sigi Schmid opted to move Dempsey into a position closer to goal in his first appearance with the club in the 2014 season.
Considering a week that had him in London playing against Chelsea in the final match of his loan to Fulham on Saturday, then to Germany and Cyprus with the U.S. National Team for a friendly against Ukraine on Wednesday, then back to Seattle on Thursday with his only training session on Friday, his role in Seattle’s victory on Saturday was the stuff that only happens in fiction.
And while some of that travel took its toll on Dempsey, his combinations with Obafemi Martins could lead Schmid to keep him in the same role on Saturday when Sounders FC hosts Toronto FC on Saturday.
“I thought he was alright. He hasn’t really trained with us, but I like that him and Oba were definitely looking for each other, looking to combine with each other, and that is something that will continue to get better as well,” Schmid said.
After his loan spell at Fulham, Dempsey felt fit enough to play more minutes on Saturday, but wanted to play it safe with still 33 games remaining on the calendar.
“It was just up to Sigi and what he wanted to do, but with all the travel and stuff—getting in on Thursday after flying so much—we wanted to be a little bit smarter because if you look at the history of myself and some of the other players, people pick up injuries if you push too hard too quickly after long travel,” Dempsey said.
In his short time back in Seattle, Dempsey has already been impressed with the club’s new-look lineup. While he wouldn’t speculate just how he would fit into that lineup, the smiles in the locker room after opening the season with a victory were all anyone needed to see to know that this year was different.
“It’s too early to tell, but it’s a positive locker room, everybody is happy and in good spirits, fighting for each other, but it’s too early to tell. I’ve only been here two days,” said Dempsey. “You have to have that if you want to win something. It’s still early days, but getting a goal in injury time does show that you’re fighting to the end, but it’s a long season. I think your true character shows over time and I think it’s clawing your way back after conceding goals and also it’s being able to get goals in the final few minutes and hopefully we can do that this season.”
On Saturday, Sounders FC will face a new-look Toronto FC side that features U.S. National Team midfielder Michael Bradley. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Field.