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Sounders rule out Dempsey to focus on 2017 return

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Instead of trying to force a return this season, the club has decided to target a full health return in 2017 for Dempsey

Sounders vs. Timbers: Photos Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

Seattle Sounders FC officially announced on Tuesday that forward and Designated Player Clint Dempsey is ruled out for the rest of the 2016 MLS season. General Manager Garth Lagerwey had said a few weeks ago when Dempsey returned to training that they were hopeful he could return this season, but it turns out that the player still requires more evaluations, testing, and treatment before he could be cleared to play in competitive matches again. “I mentioned that he was cleared to train and not to play, and we simply haven’t been able to get to a point where we felt comfortable there was a realistic chance of that.”

Lagerwey stressed multiple times, as he did when Dempsey initially returned to training, that the player’s health is, without a doubt, the club’s top priority. “Like I said, we are not comfortable putting any kind of pressure on this, his return to play is not important relative to his health, both short-term and long-term.” Dempsey could help out the team in a non-playing role this season, but it depends on how he feels, how the medical staff feels, and a number of other factors. Lagerwey said that Dempsey will be undergoing evaluation and treatment both in the Seattle area and elsewhere, and everything else is strictly dependent on what’s best for the player’s health.

Dempsey returned for a few days of training a couple weeks ago, but hasn’t been seen at Starfire for more than a week—leading some to expect that things weren’t as positive as that initial return has made it seem. But because head coach Brian Schmetzer was constantly fielding questions about Dempsey after training sessions, the club decided to take action and officially rule him out to end the speculation. “We will not have another update until preseason camp next year,” Lagerwey said, “by that point we are hopeful that Clint will be able to make a return at that point.”

Lagerwey also said that the decision also meant that the team could focus on getting Dempsey back into action for 2017, rather than forcing the issue of getting him back this season. “We feel by ruling him out today it puts us in the best position to eventually get him back, hopefully for the 2017 season.”

Both Lagerwey and Schmetzer were pleased with what they’ve seen so far from the rest of the Sounders squad, despite the impossibility of replacing a guy like Dempsey. “We miss him, but we’ve had some good results, starting with the one down in LA. It’s a strong group, their mindset is good,” Schmetzer said. Replacing the skill set of the man he refers to as “the best field player that this country has ever produced” has been no easy task, but he said that he’s happy with how his team has responded.

Garth praised the team’s ability to replace at least some of Dempsey’s often staggering production, most notably in LA last Sunday. “We don’t have another player on the roster, there aren’t many players in the league or in the world that are at his level. We need to replace his production collectively, and I think we’ve done that.”

As for the future between Dempsey and the Sounders, Lagerwey rejected any notion that didn’t put the player’s health first. He said that the organization is only focusing on Dempsey’s long-term health right now, with the goal of having him back next season, which “would be by far the best result for Clint and the best result for us.” Since nothing has technically changed with Dempsey’s condition since he returned to training, it’s unlikely that we’ll know anything about his condition and progress until the club starts preseason training next year.

As Dempsey’s teammate Herculez Gomez said, “It’s a big loss for US Soccer in general, but it’s not about Clint Dempsey the soccer player. It’s about Clint Dempsey the person and the family man.”