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Sounders players, staff reflect on Clint Dempsey’s career

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The Nacogdoches native was a comedian, hero and icon, according to the people who worked closest with him.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. — Clint Dempsey’s status as one of the greatest American soccer players ever should be beyond debate following his retirement on Wednesday. Among Seattle Sounders teammates staff, though, he was remembered more as a “family man,” surprisingly funny and a mentor.

Majority owner Adrian Hanauer, who was serving as general manager when Dempsey was brought in from Tottenham Hotspur for a reported fee of $9 million, praised Dempsey’s contributions in Seattle.

“He’s done the business on the field for this club,” Hanauer said after ticking off the various trophies the Sounders won during Dempsey’s tenure. “I’m a team guy, Clint’s a team guy. For me it’s been all about helping us win championships. Helping us be relevant in the community. Helping us do amazing things in the community. Some of the individual things you’ve seen Clint do, whether it’s for kids or some others who aren’t so fortunate in our community. I like to go back to our vision, which is to create moments, enrich lives and unify through soccer and I can’t think of a guy who embodies that more than Clint.”

Cristian Roldan recalled the first time he ran into Dempsey — literally — on the training ground during a session Sounders while he was still at the University of Washington.

“I fouled him really hard in training,” Roldan said. “That was my first moment with him. I fouled him pretty hard. I ended up down. I’m like, ‘Clint, I’m sorry,’ You have this college kid, a skinny dude, saying ‘I’m sorry, I know who you are, but I’m really sorry.’ He comes back to me and is like ‘I didn’t know I was running into a brick wall.’ I remember those words exactly. That’s my first memory of Clint and it serves as a good example of what he ended up being as a professional for me.”

Like most American players his age, Dempsey was a bit of a role model for Roldan.

“I think he’s been fantastic for the US in general, for soccer in general,” Roldan said. “As a kid growing up, when you see an American playing at the biggest stage, you think ‘wow, it’s possible for anybody.’ As long as you put your mind to work extremely hard and stay determined, it is possible to reach that level.

“Clint came from Nacogdoches, he did everything possible to make his career happen. Growing up in that time, you always wanted to be like Clint. A guy that followed his career and hopefully played alongside him one day.”

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer praised the respect Demspey had shown to team personnel, including the medical and training staff during the course of his career in Seattle. He said that Dempsey had been a great mentor for younger players like Roldan and academy products like Ray Serrano.

“I’ve seen it first-hand,” Schmetzer said about Dempsey’s willingness to pass along his knowledge. “I’ve seen him take younger guys aside. I’ve seen the stories he’s able to relate to some of those young guys, some of what he’s gone through and what enabled him to be successful in those moments. He’s always shared all that.”

In the media, Dempsey was noted for his withdrawn nature, bordering on aloofness. Teammates say that away from the cameras, however, Dempsey was a consummate comedian.

“He’s a funny guy,” Roldan said. “He’s got a lot of jokes. He’s a guy that stays quiet but when he says a couple lines you’re busting up. He’s hilarious. He may seem serious off the field if you don’t know him, but when you really sit down and have a conversation with him, you have a blast. He’s a funny guy. He’s a guy you want to be around.”

In the short term, Dempsey isn’t expected to have an official role with the team. Hanauer has not ruled out the possibility of trying to keep Dempsey involved in the organization longer term, though. That isn’t a decision entirely up to Hanauer, of course. As he admitted Wednesday, the future will go the way that Dempsey’s prolific career has: the Texas native will do whatever he’d like to.

“We talked about grabbing coffee over the next couple weeks and checking in after the dust settles a little bit,” Hanauer said. “We’ll see how it goes. I’d love to have him stay part of the family. I won’t put words in Clint’s mouth, but going fishing, going hunting, probably near the top of his list right now.”