When Sounders FC had a steep mountain to climb in the form of a 4-2 road deficit against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday, Seattle turned to the man whom ownership famously said that it moved mountains to acquire.
In the final 12 minutes of regulation plus the four minutes of stoppage time, Clint Dempsey put the team on his shoulders and barged straight through that mountain, netting his first MLS hat trick to give Sounders FC the valuable road point with a 4-4 draw.
“He stepped up into the breach today,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s a leader. He wants to lead this team. He wants to show that last year was not the Clint Dempsey that we’re going to see this year. He wants to show people that he’s ready for the World Cup coming up and I think he did that.”
Dempsey returned from suspension and a 2-2 midweek draw for the U.S. National Team against Mexico and was a man on fire against the Timbers. Whether it was frustration about the two-match suspension levied by the MLS Disciplinary Committee after a 2-1 loss to Toronto FC on March 15, vengeance for Seattle’s playoff defeat to the Timbers last season, personal motivation to reach his best level ahead of the World Cup in June or a desire to do everything in his power to help Seattle reach its goals in MLS this year, Dempsey was beyond driven.
His first goal came in the 25th minute, leveling the match at 2-2 on a ball from Obafemi Martins when Seattle sprung a quick attack on Portland after a turnover.
Then, with the match at 4-2, he attempted six shots from the 79th minute through the 90th minute while nobody else on the field for either side attempted one.
In the 85th minute, he pulled one back on another ball from Martins when he touched through a ball from Lamar Neagle. Dempsey took one touch at the edge of the six-yard box before putting it past Andrew Weber for his second goal of the match.
An 87th minute penalty completed the hat trick and the comeback for Seattle and rocketed Dempsey to the top of the league scoring charts with four goals on the season.
“It always feels good to score goals, a little bit sweeter to score against your rivals. But, like I said, at the same time, the most important thing is points,” Dempsey said. “We got a point today and we need to make sure we win our games at home. Make it a fortress and that we’re getting those three points that we need because we need to make sure we push up the table. We have the quality in ourselves, that’s where we should be.”
Dempsey’s success can be attributed to some things outside of his shear desire and talent, though.
In the 60th and 68th minutes, Schmid made two lineup changes with the aim of changing Seattle’s formation against Portland’s wing-driven play, bringing Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa in for Kenny Cooper and Micheal Azira to convert from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
“We wanted to tuck him inside a little bit from there and we played sort of more of our three midfielders and spread them out a little bit. They were getting a little bit of joy on the flanks, creating some 2v1s, so when we brought Neagle in at that point, when we were down 4-2, we went more back into a 4-2-3-1 with Clint centrally under Oba and Neagle and later Pappa pushing on the wings and that seemed to suit us in this particular game better,” Schmid explained.
The resulting hat trick – the fifth in Sounders FC history – gave Seattle a point away from home, brought the Sounders back from the doldrums of a 2-1 home defeat against the Columbus Crew last week and gathered some momentum heading into a tough matchup next week with FC Dallas, who has compiled a 4-0-1 record for the best record in MLS.
It also gave the ever-dangerous Dempsey a chance to show just how threatening he can be when he’s in a rhythm.
“You always feel good when you’re contributing, scoring goals or getting assists,” Dempsey said. “I’m in a good rhythm at the moment and it’s about continuing that form.”
Dempsey will return to his home state against FC Dallas next week kicks at Toyota Stadium. Saturday’s match kicks off at 5:30 pm PT.