SEATTLE (CBS) — It’s been 724 days since Clint Dempsey last took the field in an MLS playoffs game.
While a lot has happened in Seattle Sounders postseason since the November 8th, 2015 loss in penalty kicks to FC Dallas, the longtime US men’s national team forward is ready to do his part in contributing to more history.
“You want to make an impact and try to help the team in any way possible,” Dempsey said following training on Wednesday. “Our team has a lot of quality players and everybody will be up for it and I’m sure everyone will play a part.”
Having missed all of the 2016 MLS Cup run with a heart issue, and then first leg of the 2017 playoffs last weekend on a red card suspension, Dempsey steps in for his first post season appearance in almost two years.
And it couldn’t come at more perfect time for the Sounders.
After a scoreless draw on the road against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the home-and-home series, Seattle now faces a must win game at home on Thursday night in order to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
“It’s going to be a big challenge but that’s what its all about; playing in front of crowds like this and bringing your best,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey adds another layer to what the Sounders are able to do in the attacking third, and allows them to work other players around him in their natural position.
Most importantly, especially in a “win or go home” game like Thursday, Dempsey adds the ever-present threat of scoring to Seattle’s offense.
“Clint just makes us a more effective team…” Schmezter said. “Instead of just keying on Nico, or Bruin, they’ve got a third guy in the mix who’s goal-dangerous.”
Welcoming Dempsey back for the second leg is a huge add for Seattle. However, Thursday does present another challenge for the Rave Green.
Not only are the Sounders up against quality opposition from the Cascadia rival Whitecaps, they also are fighting injuries that have several key player’s status up in the air.
“If guys can play, they’re going to play,” Schmetzer said. “We’re at that point in the season, so we’re doing whatever we can to get them out on the field. But again, if they can’t and it’s a game time decision, next guy steps up.”
Schmetzer did confirm after training that Brad Evans and Jordan Morris are official out, though neither are too surprising as Evans has been out most of the season and Morris has been rehabbing a leg injury for the last month.
That still leaves a number of players questionable heading into Thursday.
Victor Rodriguez, who has been a burst of energy on the wing for Seattle, has been dealing with a pulled quad, and despite training last week, didn’t feature for Seattle in leg one.
Meanwhile, both Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson returned from injury absences in the second half of Sunday’s game. However neither appear to be 100 percent.
Tactically, having players like Rodriguez, Alonso and Svensson would help elevate the squad. But Schmetzer has preached “next man up” over the 10 and half months season, and now come playoffs, continues to believe the players he has are ready to go.
“It’s about execution,” Schmetzer said. “Guys have to make plays on the field. We’ve played against [Vancouver] enough. You can add a wrinkle here, a wrinkle there, you can shift little things here or there but at the end of the day, the players are going to decide this game.”
Clint Dempsey is prepared to be one of those players who helps decide the game and push Seattle to the Western Conference Finals. A veteran of three World Cups, No. 2 is no stranger to playing in big games on big stages.
“You’ve got to put in a professional performance and see the game out,” Dempsey said. “Be tight in the back, be good in possession, and when you get your chances you have to put them away.”