The start to the 2017 MLS season might not have gone as well for the Seattle Sounders as they would have liked, but there have already been plenty of positives. Chief among those is the return of Clint Dempsey from his irregular heartbeat issue; he’s played in all seven of the team’s matches thus far. He’s the team’s leading scorer with three goals, as well as a single assist from last weekend’s 3-0 win over LA. Dempsey said on Thursday that he’s “feeling good” and pleased with the team’s dominating performance over the Galaxy.
Notorious for being a bit closed off about himself with the media, he rejected any questions about his own personal narrative. “I didn’t imagine how things would go, things go how they go. It’s not like I have this plan where I’m sitting here thinking, hoping this is going to be a certain way or that.” Dempsey refuted the suggestion that he was dreaming of how his return to soccer would go, saying that all he did was plan to work hard as much as possible, because he knew if he did that, “good things will come.”
Despite the poor start to the season for Seattle, Dempsey said he’s been pleased with how the team has played in many of their games—and that the win over LA is a sign of things to come. “I thought we did really good with the chances we created, could have gotten a few more. But hopefully we’ll keep building on that and play like that the rest of the season.”
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t rue the chances he and the team had in some of their early matches. He suggests that the games in Houston and Montreal were very important to the team, because of how hard they fought to nearly come back in the first and to recover from a two-goal deficit to grab a point in the second. “Anytime your back’s against the wall and your’e fighting to get back into games, I think that’s something that says a lot about your character.” The unfortunate late draw in San Jose and loss in Vancouver also weigh on Dempsey, the latter even more so. “Hitting the crossbar twice against Vancouver, maybe that’s a game you could’ve gotten a point from.” Had he scored in Vancouver and the team not given up the late goal to Wondolowski in San Jose, maybe they get three more points and sit more comfortably in the standings.
But you don’t have a career like Dempsey’s without having a bit of a short-term memory about chances and matches like that; he says he’s actually encouraged by the four shots he’s hit off the woodwork so far and some of the team’s narrow misses. “It’s positive. I don’t see it as a negative. You’re getting closer, getting good looks in front of goal, being dangerous. It’s just a matter of time.” Instead of dwelling on the times he hit the bar or missed a shot, he chooses instead to focus on the goals he’s scored and the goals he’s created for his teammates. “Those are good chances being created, I just see it as things to build upon.”
Because Dempsey is so hesitant to talk about himself with reporters, he often moves towards talking about his teammates and their games. He spoke of how Will Bruin did “a great job holding the ball up for us, and that allows us to keep possession sometimes when we have to kick it long.” On Jordan Morris’ goal against the Galaxy in which Dempsey provided the final pass, he praised Bruin’s kickstarting of the attack by playing the pass wide to Jordy Delem.
As for the specifics of why the team’s form is trending upward, Dempsey mentioned possession quite a bit. He’s pleased with how the team kept possession against LA, and how they used it to their advantage. “Against LA I thought we played really well, kept possession, created chances, and were dominant.” One big aspect of that match really stood out to Dempsey: the quality of “looks” on goal that the Sounders had. In previous matches, they may have dominated possession and taken a lot of shots, but they weren’t always particularly good chances created. “The quality of those looks will give you better chances to score,” Dempsey said. “We had some really good looks in front of goal, we could have finished a few more.”
But even though the team is playing well and improving, Dempsey said that it’s OK that their best form is yet to come—you only have to look at the Sounders’ 2016 season to see that. “You want to be hitting your peak performance later in the season. Hopefully there will be more to improve on.”