“All in all, it was a good debut.”
That was Clint Dempsey’s assessment of his first time on the field with his new teammates with Sounders FC.
After just two days of training and a seemingly endless slew of media requests that could distract less focused men, he was something to behold Saturday night in Toronto.
Forced into early action by an ankle injury to Obafemi Martins, Dempsey stepped onto the pitch in the 34th minute at BMO Field and almost instantly darted up the right sideline on a breakaway. The instant didn’t lead to a clear scoring chance, but the threat of one was enough to confirm that Dempsey makes Seattle’s already dangerous attack downright lethal.
It was just a small window into what Dempsey would show the rest of the match as he dazzled throughout. Seattle held on for a 2-1 victory to run its unbeaten streak to four straight matches.
“It felt good,” Dempsey said. “I was happy with my play. I thought I was able to bring people into the game and help create chances for my teammates. I would have liked to have done better with some of the chances that I had.”
Limited to just two preseason games with Tottenham before coming to Seattle last week, Dempsey could have been forgiven for being a bit rusty when he took the field, particularly considering the circumstances of coming on as a first-half injury replacement.
However, he looked fit and integrated well with his new teammates.
“I’m not there yet, but I was happy with the touches that I got tonight and the work that I put in,” he said. “Hopefully things will start falling for me in the games to come.”
He finished the night with a game-high five shots, but four of them were blocked. The one that wasn’t staved off by a defender was a thing of beauty.
In the 70th minute, Dempsey got the ball in the middle of the pitch, then put on a skills clinic to evade two oncoming defenders, spinning with deft precision to split them and get forward. With one more defender to beat, he juked to his right and cut it back to his left foot, then rifled a curling shot toward the post that forced Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik into a desperation dive to get a finger-tip save pushing the ball away for a corner kick.
He was clearly hungry to make a quick impact and show his teammates that he can be of great help as they continue to push for the playoffs.
“I want to hit the ground running,” he said. “I want to start chipping in with goals and assists and being able to create chances for my teammates – whatever I can do to help the team win.”
What he adds is a tremendous talent and leader that can galvanize an attacking group that includes Martins and Eddie Johnson at the forward spots along with Lamar Neagle. Through the midfield, they boast Mauro Rosales, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Shalrie Joseph and will soon add Steve Zakuani back from injury.
Already, Dempsey has enough awareness of his teammates to know how important each one is to the greater good of the team. So while he was optimistic about the team’s performance, he still knows that Martins is not just an important piece to the puzzle, but a cornerstone in the offense.
“Unfortunately the bigger thing is that Oba got hurt. We wish him a speedy recovery because he’s a great player and we want him back as soon as possible,” Dempsey said. “I think once we have everybody fit and healthy and have our strongest team out there, I think we’re going to be a tough team to contain.”
Seattle’s next match will come Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium against the Houston Dynamo, just a three-hour drive from his hometown in Nacogdoches, Texas.
It’s a homecoming that will have Dempsey smiling, but not nearly as much as when he makes his CenturyLink Field debut in front of over 67,000 fans against the Portland Timbers on August 25.