Next week, the U.S. National Team will call in its 30-man preliminary roster ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and Sounders FC forward Clint Dempsey will be among those included as Jurgen Klinsmann prepares his squad.
So it's only fitting that Dempsey returns to where his professional career started as Sounders FC faces the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on Sunday in his last match before he leaves to join the national team.
"It's always great to go back to where you started. I owe a lot to that organization," Dempsey said. "They picked me up in the draft and gave me the opportunity to jumpstart my career and through playing there allowed me to break into the national team which allowed me to go overseas. I had good memories there."
Dempsey was drafted eighth overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, following selections of other players who played for the U.S. National Team like Freddy Adu, Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson. Coming out of Furman University, it didn't take long for the budding superstar to make his presence felt on a New England squad that was on the rise. Already boasting the likes of Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps and Shalrie Joseph, Dempsey added a new dimension to the team.
In his third match with the Revs, Dempsey netted his first goal and eventually he finished the season with seven goals and one assist to win Rookie of the Year honors.
It was a different story in 2005 though. Dempsey wasn't a complementary piece to a group of existing stars – he was the star.
He had 10 goals and nine assists in the regular season to earn MLS Best XI honors and scored the game-winning goal in the Eastern Conference Championship against the Chicago Fire, sending the Revs to the first of three consecutive MLS Cup finals.
He followed that up the following season with another MLS Best XI season despite playing just 21 matches because of injuries and a run in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, finishing the year with eight goals and four assists.
He credits the coaches and teammates he had in those three seasons for helping his rapid ascension to Europe and to prominence with the U.S. National Team.
"It was a good coaching staff in Stevie Nicol and Paul Mariner and players of high quality. I enjoyed playing with all the players there – Andy Dorman, Steve Ralston, Shalrie Joseph, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan … the list goes on and on. We had a really good foundation," Dempsey said. "I thought we played a really good style. I think that's the reason we managed to go so far in the seasons I was there and even after I left they still managed to get to two more finals."
After the season, London was calling and Dempsey shipped off to Fulham, where he would spend six seasons before transferring to Tottenham Hotspur and then to Seattle, where he now leads MLS with eight goals in just eight matches.
All the nostalgia aside, Dempsey is focused on keeping Sounders FC on its incredible run of five straight wins and an MLS-best 7-2-1 record, including a 3-0-1 record away from home. And while the U.S. National Team camp is looming, Dempsey keeps his eyes fixed on Sunday's match first.
"Right now I'm focused on the game. That's what we're focused on, but we're working hard in these games and keeping your form and your fitness and bringing that with you if you get the call up," he said. "It will be great to go back, but we'll still be looking to get points."
Sunday's match kicks off at 3 pm PT, with television coverage on Q13 FOX.