SEATTLE – Clint Dempsey made his debut in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League a memorable one on Tuesday night at CenturyLink Field, scoring both goals in the Seattle Sounders’ 2-2 draw against Club America.
Dempsey started up top with Nelson Valdez and Jordan Morris in the team’s renovated 4-3-3 formation, but the results were nothing new for Dempsey. He scored on a stunning free kick in the 44th minute and then added a second goal in the 52nd minute, turning in a back post header from an Andreas Ivanschitz corner kick.
With the offseason departure of Obafemi Martins and a younger group of players now climbing the ranks in Seattle, it’s clear that Dempsey will step into more of a leadership role on the team in 2016.
“I think Clint’s leadership is by how he performs on the field,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. “What he gives the team, and his ability to hold onto the ball and connect passes for us. Being able to put his foot on the ball and slow it down for us at the right times and being there when the opportunity presents itself, to score goals. I think that’s the way he leads.”
Dempsey’s first goal stood out as easily the best goal for either side on a wild night at CenturyLink Field. After drawing a foul roughly 25 yards from goal, Dempsey curled a right-footed free kick into the back of the net, to the delight of the crowd of nearly 43,000 fans in attendance.
“He’s always a threat on free kicks,” Sounders captain Brad Evans said. “Just a phenomenal first goal, nothing the ‘keeper could do about it.”
Dempsey then tallied a go-ahead goal early in the second half, rising over a Club America defender on an Ivanschitz corner kick to complete the brace.
“Good service from Ivanschitz and [Dempsey] just rises up above his defender and finds the far post,” Evans said. “Great performance from Clint.”
Both Schmid and Evans harped on the punishment Dempsey took on Tuesday night, and the stats backed it up. Dempsey was fouled seven times in the match, more than any other player on the field.
“Somehow finds a way to get goals even when he’s fouled and fouled and fouled,” Evans said. “I’m very impressed with him keeping his head and finding the back of the net twice.”
Despite a bright 2016 opening appearance, there is work to be done with fitting Dempsey into a new formation and crop of forwards. Dempsey started as a free-roaming left wing, but switched with Ivanschitz in the tail end of the first half into a role underneath Valdez further back in the midfield.
“He’s coming off the left for us; we’re trying to give him some spaces there,” said Schmid. “In the first half, we needed Ivanschitz to push a little wider left so it would allow Clint to stay up higher. In the second half, he was able to stay higher so that more of his touches came in the attacking end of the field. Those are tweaks in the system that we’re working on and getting better at.”
The Sounders will face Club America in the second leg of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on March 2.