TUKWILA, Wash. – Sounders forward Clint Dempsey says his high-scoring sojourn with the United States Men’s National Team has left him more physically confident than he’s been in quite some time.
Dempsey had said before leaving to play two FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama that he wasn’t sure he was “90 minutes fit” enough for USMNT play. But that changed in a hurry when Dempsey scored a hat trick against Honduras and then added another goal in Panama to move within one of Landon Donovan’s all-time record for this country (Dempsey is at 56).
“I mean, I’ve been playing 90 minutes in MLS games,” Dempsey said after Thursday’s team workout. “But when you’re playing internationally in World Cup qualifiers, there’s a little bit of extra incentive there. It’s win or go home. In MLS, right now, at this stage of the season everyone is still building. You don’t want to hit your peak until late in the season. But yeah, I feel good.”
Dempsey, of course, missed the remainder of last season after being sidelined in August by an irregular heartbeat. He wasn’t even a certainty for the Sounders’ opening roster this season, and U.S. coach Bruce Arena had recently mused about playing him off the bench.
But that changed in a hurry.
As for matching and perhaps surpassing Donovan’s goal-scoring mark, Dempsey admits to being aware of it. “Yeah, it’s something that’s there. But it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is qualifying for the World Cup. And if you go in and you perform, everything else kind of takes care of itself in that regard. But I mean, yeah, it’s something that I’m aware of.”
He’s also well aware of U.S. teammate Cristian Pulisic, who assisted on all three of his goals against Honduras.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” he said. “Eighteen years old and playing so well. I look forward to watching him for many years. He’s just going to go on and I think do great things.”
Dempsey said his time away was “fun”, especially when the U.S. team clicked on all cylinders in the first game. But it was a long flight home from Panama after a hard-fought match and Dempsey was feeling the strain. That’s why the Sounders didn’t bring him on in last Friday’s scoreless draw until the 56th minute.
“I was just trying to do everything that I could to make sure I was ready if I got called upon so that when I got in the game I could make an impact,” he said. “It’s always difficult when you have such a quick turnaround and a long flight, to try to get ready for a game so quickly. I was just making sure that I took care of my body so that when I got on the field I’d be ready to perform.”
Dempsey nearly scored a minute into his Atlanta appearance when he headed a ball off the post. The Sounders looked tentative at times offensively and didn’t seem to click the way they had against the New York Red Bulls in a 3-1 victory two weeks earlier.
But besides Dempsey, the attack also had Nicolas Lodeiro back after a long flight from national-team duty in Uruguay. Jordan Morris was also playing his first game in 13 days after an ankle injury.
Dempsey expects a bit more cohesion from the group this Saturday in San Jose against the Earthquakes.
“I think the best is still yet to come,” Dempsey said. “I think you saw a little bit of that when we played against the Red Bulls and were able to get three goals. Unfortunately, we had the international break, and it was difficult for everybody to get back on the field again after such a quick turnaround with them.”
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