With five minutes remaining in another Portland vs Seattle classic, US National Team hero Clint Dempsey inspired a two goal comeback from 4-2 down, sealing his hat-trick and a dramatic draw for the Sounders. Whilst an incredible story, it is what we have gotten used to with Dempsey. Whether it was Fulham’s unlikely run to the Europa League final, the National Team’s phenomenal 2010 World Cup or his timely goals for Tottenham Hotspur, Dempsey, success and drama just went hand in hand.
Until his Spurs move went sour. He fell out of favor with Andre Villas-Boas and looked to leave the North London side. The huge surprise was not his departure, but his destination. After leaving MLS to move to England, he had returned in a frantic night in which Twitter stalked Dempsey across the United States while fans refused to believe the possibility of a return.
It soon broke on Twitter that he was returning to MLS, and going to the Sounders. It was a league record fee, but one that you felt was entirely worthwhile. Yet, it was soon forgotten, that his debut was two months after his previous fixture. He was rusty, and looked ineffective.
It took two and a half months for his first goal to come, in his ninth game. Lamar Neagle’s cross led Dempsey to open the scoring against the LA Galaxy, but the match finished in a draw. It was as good as it got for Dempsey. He missed a month with a hamstring injury, and by the time he returned, he struggled to the end of the season with a shoulder injury. He finished the season with one goal in twelve, a disappointing tally to say the least. It could have had wider ramifications too.
Seattle regularly bring in a huge crowd, great atmosphere, and talented players. However, it has yet to translate into success. Obafemi Martins came in to the club in a move expected to fire the Sounders to MLS Cup success. A huge raft of injuries prevented Martins from doing that.
In order to help Martins and the team, the record sum was spent on Dempsey, who again, was a player expected to bring the success and trophy. He was unable to do so. Dempsey struggled throughout. The Sounders made the playoffs, there was never real danger of them not, but they went out in a disappointing fashion. When drawn against the Portland Timbers in the playoffs for a chance to enter the Western Conference final, disappointingly, the Timbers took a 2-1 win away from Seattle.
While not ideal, the Sounders were still with a chance of overturning the deficit. However they were unable to, as the Timbers won again, this time 3-2. In both legs, the game seemed to pass by Dempsey, the crux of the team’s hopes for success. A combination of a disappointing exit, and high hopes left head coach Sigi Schmid under serious pressure.
He was lucky, and kept his job, but it meant that the 2014 season made his seat the hottest in MLS after Ben Olsen. For Schmid to retain his job, he needed Dempsey to return to his previous form.
Things did not start well in 2014; Dempsey’s lack of training meant a quiet game against Sporting Kansas City, in a game where both sides looked poor. A goal line scramble involving Dempsey led to the only goal of the game as Chad Barrett bundled the ball home.
A great result, that was then to be marred by the news that Dempsey was to serve a two match ban for hitting Mark Bloom. It was not the ideal start for either the team or Dempsey, and it put all the more pressure on his return against the Portland Timbers.
Neither side should have worried. Dempsey’s brilliance ended a three game losing streak to the Timbers, and the Sounders saw the best of Dempsey. A leaf may well have been turned, and if it has, the Sounders could well be a force in 2014.