Is Clint Dempsey choosing Letterman over Open Cup?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Not really, but it's definitely complicated.

By now, you've probably heard that Clint Dempsey will be appearing on Wednesday evening's episode of Letterman. Even though the show is filmed earlier the day, that effectively kills any possibility that the Sounders' highest-profile player will be making a surprise appearance in the U.S. Open Cup match against the Portland Timbers later that night.

Although the Sounders have never given any indication that Dempsey would be available for the Open Cup game, there's been a fair amount of grumbling over Dempsey effectively doing a promotional appearance instead of playing in a must-win match. As a simple equation, it's hard to blame any of those grumblers.

But soccer in this country -- and MLS, in particular -- rarely involves simple equations.

First off, it's important to remember that Dempsey suffered an actual injury during the World Cup. It's perhaps tempting to forget that Dempsey played virtually the entire tournament with a broken nose and giving him some extra time off was always part of the plan. Of the United States national team players who actually appeared in their MLS games over the weekend, only Graham Zusi and Michael Bradley played significant roles in the loss to Belgium. The other five MLS players who appeared in the Belgium game were given the weekend off. None of those players -- aside from DeAndre Yedlin -- have midweek games this week.

But even taking the physical and mental part out of it, on some level Sounders fans had to know this was part of the bargain when Dempsey returned to MLS. The Sounders and the league agreed to pay Dempsey's rather hefty fare in large part because of the promotional power he brings. Yes, he's a Sounders player and of course he wants to win, but if the league has a chance to parade him in front of the roughly 3 million people who tune into "Late Night", they are going to do it, especially if the cost is missing an Open Cup match.

Of course, Sounders fans don't have to like this, but to some degree we do have to learn to accept it.

Where this could potentially cross over from annoyance to justified outrage, though, is if Dempsey doesn't play in Sunday's MLS regular-season match against the Timbers. That game will be played in front of about 67,000 people plus a sizable TV audience. Dempsey will have had nearly two weeks off from his last game and presumably had three full days of training with the Sounders. Aside from injury -- which I suppose could still be an issue, but really shouldn't be at this point -- there's no good reason that he should not be available for a role off the bench.

The good news is that Sigi Schmid has shown a willingness to play his veterans despite not having a full week of training. The most recent example of this was earlier this year when Dempsey started -- and scored a hat trick -- against the Timbers just three days after playing 90 minutes for the United States in a friendly against Mexico.

If I were a betting man, I'd say the chances of a healthy Dempsey starting against the Timbers is probably better than him not playing at all. So, grumble away, but let's at least save the pitchforks for a few days.

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