TUKWILA, Wash. — When the Seattle Sounders take on the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium on Saturday (7:30 p.m. PT; Q13 FOX, Univision, KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360AM), forward Clint Dempsey will return to the venue where just two weeks ago he recorded a hat trick with the United States national team in a CONCACAF 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match against Honduras.
U.S. head coach Bruce Arena was not even sure he was going to call in Dempsey, who had not featured with the USMNT since the 2016 Copa America and missed six months with an irregular heartbeat. But Dempsey has been playing and producing for the Sounders thus far in 2017, so Arena made the move for the U.S.’ second all-time leading goalscorer. When Bobby Wood and Dempsey’s teammate Jordan Morris each went down with injuries with their club teams, Arena quipped after the Honduras match that he “didn’t have anyone else” to start but Dempsey.
So there was Dempsey, starting in a near-must-win World Cup Qualifier, just months after his playing career was potentially in doubt. And Clint Dempsey did what Clint Dempsey does: perform.
“His commitment to helping the team get to the World Cup and the way he was talking leading up to that camp, you knew that he was committed and going to play well,” said Sounders Sporting Director and Vice President of Soccer Chris Henderson on Thursday. “You know when Clint is on the field and healthy, he’s going to contribute. At any moment, he can score a goal.”
Dempsey recorded a hat trick in less than an hour to lead the United States to a 6-0 demolition against Los Catrachos and restore hope for a 2018 World Cup spot in Russia after a dismal first two matches in the Hexagonal. Dempey scored in the 32nd and 49th minutes off two beautiful feeds from 18-year-old Christian Pulisic before completing his hat track with a wonderstrike free kick in the 54th.
“The team was playing really well,” Dempsey recalled Thursday. “We were causing them problems and taking advantage of every opportunity that we were able to get. We were clinical in front of goal. It made it difficult on them and opened the game up. We were playing at a high level.”
Dempsey scored another goal four days later in a 1-1 draw in Panama. His career tally of 56 is now just one behind Landon Donovan’s all-time U.S. men’s national team goalscoring record, a number and a milestone of which he’s fully aware.
“It’s something that’s there, but it’s not the most important thing,” Dempsey said. “The most important thing is qualifying for the World Cup. If you go in and you perform, everything else will take care of itself.”