TORONTO — Throughout Clint Dempsey’s five-month layoff after being recognized with an irregular heartbeat final season, few moments had been as poignant because the Seattle Sounders’ last apply earlier than final yr’s MLS Cup last.
As his teammates had been jovially collaborating in group drills and strolling by set performs, Dempsey was alone down close to one among BMO Area’s nook flags, doing a little mild conditioning. Because the Sounders ready for the most important recreation of a few of their lives, Dempsey was simply starting the ramp up towards a 2017 return no person was certain would really occur.
For out of doors observers, that snapshot spoke volumes. For Dempsey, although, it wasn’t fairly like that. There was no single second that encapsulated his lengthy exile from the sport, no all-time low.
“Probably not, as a result of I’ve had a great profession,” Dempsey mentioned earlier this week. “I have been blessed with the entire issues I’ve accomplished. I wasn’t going to take a seat there and be too grasping. Clearly you need to exit by yourself phrases, however there was by no means a second that was actually, actually low.”
Likewise, the storyline of his coming again to Toronto at full power for an additional Cup last (Saturday at four p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) — having not solely returned to motion however scored 12 targets within the common season plus three extra these playoffs — is irresistible.
Grand, sweeping narratives, nonetheless, have by no means been Dempsey’s factor. He has persistently swatted away the notion that this playoff run has been any extra particular, within the total arc of his profession, given final yr’s well being scare. He downplays the concept returning to BMO Area has any larger significance than, say, a championship recreation at Jap Convention runner-up Columbus would have been.
“Personally, it is nice to be again taking part in on the sector,” Dempsey mentioned earlier this week with typical understatement. “It actually exhibits the character of this group to do it twice in a row, preserve preventing all yr. We’re in an excellent place to attempt to repeat, and I hope I can play a component in it.”
That’s his means. The previous captain and joint all-time main scorer of the U.S. males’s nationwide group is inscrutable. If his recreation is spontaneous and multifaceted, he is all the time tried to maintain his personal life as low-key as doable.
That is to not say Dempsey lacks for motivation; no participant might have achieved all that he has with out a burning aggressive spirit. I believe he is extra pushed to interrupt that tie with Landon Donovan for the U.S. scoring file than he lets on. Certainly the now-defunct risk of taking part in in a fourth World Cup subsequent summer time held some attraction.
But time has a means of sanding down tough edges. It has been an extended whereas since Dempsey was thought of the underdog outsider, making an attempt to first show himself towards and later surpass generational friends like Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard.
“Being ready towards the top, having the ability to care for my household in a great way … there are issues that I am at peace with,” Dempsey mentioned earlier this yr. “Possibly I did not have that peace after I was youthful as a result of I hadn’t achieved these issues.”
That helps to elucidate why he was in a position to so shortly shrug off the frustration of the U.S.’s failed qualification. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer went so far as to publicly query whether or not his star ahead could be in the precise headspace to assist with the playoff push, however Dempsey assured him that he was nonetheless dedicated to the trigger and has lived as much as that promise since.
Dempsey lately signed a contract extension, to the shock of some membership observers, guaranteeing he’ll be in Seattle for at the least one other yr even with out the carrot of one other potential World Cup look. He likes that his youngsters are sufficiently old to kind recollections of watching him play, and he is having fun with himself in the intervening time, so why not?
Profitable MLS Cup most likely would not crack his private high tier of feats, from scoring in three totally different World Cups to serving to Fulham attain the Europa League last in 2010. But it could examine off one other unticked field. For all of his particular person success, Dempsey hasn’t racked up all that a lot silverware, at the least not on the membership degree.
“I actually do not take a look at particular person awards all that a lot, to be trustworthy with you,” Dempsey mentioned upon being named 2017 MLS Comeback Participant of the 12 months. “It is extra about simply having fun with the sport, the place you are at, and profiting from your profession. There are ups and downs on the curler coaster of anyone’s profession.
“The issues that imply essentially the most, that I am going to most likely look again on, would be the video games that I performed in, the large moments and the battles. That is what I am going to look again on.”
Saturday is one other a type of massive moments and guarantees to be a battle of the MLS titans. Simply soak it in, and do not take something with no consideration.
That, if something, comes closest to matching Dempsey’s late-career motto, and it does not should be any extra profound or introspective than that.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter protecting primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Comply with him on Twitter @mattpentz.