When the Seattle Sounders loaded up on Major League Soccer veterans this past offseason, they assured themselves of a season filled with reunions.
This season, goalkeeper Stefan Frei faced his old team, Toronto FC; defender Chad Marshall played against some of his former Columbus Crew teammates; and forward Kenny Cooper did it with not only the New York Red Bulls, but also with FC Dallas — twice.
Another such homecoming will play out at 3 p.m. Sunday, when Sounders designated player Clint Dempsey returns to New England, where his MLS career
began a decade ago.
“It’s always great to go back to where you started,” Dempsey said. “I owe a lot to that organization. They picked me up in the draft and gave me the opportunity to jump-start my career and, through playing there, allowed me to break into the national team, which allowed me to go overseas. I had good memories there. … It will be great to go back, but I will still be looking there to try and get points.”
New England selected Dempsey with the eighth pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. He immediately made his mark as rookie of the year and went on to MLS Best XI honors in 2005 and 2006.
Dempsey had 25 goals and 14 assists in three seasons with the Revs. He helped New England to the MLS Cup final in 2005 and 2006 before taking his game to Europe.
“I enjoyed playing with all the players there: Andy Dorman, Steve Ralston, Shalrie Joseph, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan — the list goes on and on — Matt Reis,” Dempsey said. “We had a really good foundation there, a good team. I thought we played a really good style, and I think that’s the reason why we managed to go so far.”
This year’s New England team opened with a 0-2-1 wobble. But the Revs have gone 3-0-1 the past four matches to climb back among the leaders in the tightly contested Eastern Conference. They’re 4-3-2 with 14 points.
“They’re a team that plays with a lot of midfield options — a packed midfield — really only one forward up top,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “Lee Nguyen has been having a really good year for them. He’s been probably their most dangerous player game in and game out. But always it seems (Diego) Fagundez seems to have a good game against us, so we’ve got to make sure that we’re aware of him.”
The Sounders (7-2-1, 22 points) rode an MLS-high five-game winning streak to the top of the league standings. However, this will be Seattle’s third game in nine days, and Schmid has indicated he might have to adjust his roster and plan for tired legs.
This also will be Seattle’s final match at full strength before losing one to three players for the U.S. national team’s pre-World Cup camp. Dempsey is considered a lock, midfielder/defender Brad Evans seems likely and defender DeAndre Yedlin also could be included when the U.S. roster is announced Monday.
“We have one more game left before people could be possibly going into that camp,” Dempsey said. “But that’s what we’re focusing on: just making sure you’re working hard in these games, keeping your form, keeping your fitness and bringing that with you with the call up.”