Clint Dempsey eyes spot on USMNT after scoring for Sounders in return from heart issue

Coming into this year, Clint Dempsey could not have been a bigger question mark. He had been sidelined since last summer with an irregular heartbeat and it was unclear not just when, but if he’d play again.

But Saturday night, in the Seattle Sounders’ first match of 2017, it was as if nothing had ever happened to Dempsey, scoring the team’s lone goal.

Dempsey didn’t look his sharpest, but he did look to be in solid form and he was an effective presence all over the pitch. As much as he was able to impact the match on Saturday, his ability to impose himself on games should only grow as he continues to work his way back.

Suddenly, his performance again raises the question of how quickly Dempsey should re-join the U.S. men’s national team. Coach Bruce Arena previously said he didn’t think it would be “realistic” to expect Dempsey to be called for the World Cup qualifiers later this month. It seemed that Arena was suggested he wanted Dempsey to be able to focus on getting back in form with the Sounders. But now, it already looks like Dempsey could be there.

It’s a quick return to form for “Deuce,” who only got medically cleared to return to the pitch last month. He was first sidelined due to the heart condition in August and was later ruled out for the rest of the year. As recently as last December, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said they weren’t sure if Dempsey would ever play again. But he started to feature during preseason, and now it looks like he never left.

Dempsey hasn’t disclosed too many details about the condition that sidelined him for so long, but in new comments released Saturday, he downplayed the severity of it.

“What I had wasn’t life threatening, but still, it’s always scary when it’s anything involving your heart,” he said.

Seattle Sounders midfielder Clint Dempsey controls the ball during the first half against the Houston Dynamo on March 4, 2017 at BBVA Compass Stadium. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Dempsey added that he is focused now on his career with the Sounders, but he still has his sights on returning to the U.S. national team. That seems like a distinct possibility. At 33, he remains one of the USMNT’s best attacking options with the creativity he brings to the Americans’ front line, and he has long been been one of the USMNT’s leaders on the pitch too.

Although the Americans have a decent enough strike force in Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris and others, Dempsey brings unique versatility to the attack. He can score in just about every way, whether through the run of play or on set pieces, on the ground or in the air.

“There’s always stuff to accomplish. You want to have a good season here with the club and repeat an MLS Cup championship,” Dempsey said in Saturday’s interview. “… You get the opportunity play with the national team, you want to want to try to help them qualify for the World Cup. And if you’re fortunate to still be doing well, you try to play in another World Cup.”

“There’s still goals out there.”

Indeed, it sure looks like Dempsey has plenty of goals left in him to score, and goals for him to accomplish. Though the Sounders lost Saturday, “Deuce” is off to a good start.