Seattle Sounders eager for Clint Dempsey’s return to Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, influence on Vancouver series

When the Seattle Sounders host the Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. PT; FS1, FOX Deportes, KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360 AM), in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, Clint Dempsey will play in his first Audi MLS Cup Playoffs match since 2015.

Dempsey missed the final third of the 2016 regular season and the Sounders’ entire run to MLS Cup with an irregular heartbeat before being suspended for the first leg against Vancouver last Sunday at BC Place. He is eager to get back onto the pitch and help his teammates in their quest to defend their title.

“It’s always difficult to be on the sidelines,” Dempsey said on Wednesday. “You want to make an impact and try and help the team in any way possible. You want to be out there to try and help your teammates, but we played really well and got the job done in terms of seeing out the first leg and now it’s about the second.”

The Sounders and Whitecaps played to a scoreless draw in Vancouver, which means that a Seattle win of any margin would push it through to the Western Conference Championship. Another scoreless draw would force the series to extra time while a draw with any combination of goals would send the Whitecaps through by virtue of the away goals rule.

The Sounders were limited to only one shot on goal in Vancouver — Seattle, though, held Vancouver to zero shots on goal— but were without several key players. Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson each entered as second-half substitutes as they recover from injuries, while Jordan Morris and Víctor Rodríguez each missed the match because of injuries of their own.

Now, with Dempsey, who scored against Vancouver in the Sounders’ 3-0 win over the Whitecaps at CenturyLink Field in September, back in the lineup, Seattle is hoping to use the veteran goalscorer to help tilt the series in the Sounders’ favor.

“Clint makes us a more effective team, a more dangerous team,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “Instead of just keying on [Nicolás Lodeiro] or [Will] Bruin, now they have to deal with a third guy in the mix, who’s goal-dangerous. It’ll be a challenge for them certainly, I know they’re looking for a challenge. [Whitecaps Head Coach Carl Robinson] said his team was an underdog, but I might have disputed that. They’ll be ready and we’ll be ready.”

Added Dempsey: “It’s going to be a big challenge, but that’s what it’s all about, playing in front of crowds like this and bringing your best…When you get your chances, you have to put them away. It’s going to be a back-and-forth game, that’s why everyone loves watching this game because you never know what’s going to happen.”