Newcomer Will Bruin was obviously not around the Seattle Sounders during last year’s Clint Dempsey health-scare drama.
Playing last season in Houston, Bruin heard about how a heart issue short-circuited Dempsey’s season as the star forward missed the final 16 matches, including the MLS Cup victory over Toronto.
But now, with his own eyes, he gets the up-and-close view of Dempsey every day in training at Starfire Sports.
And he sometimes asks himself — what was Dempsey’s issue again?
“It must have been a rumor,” Bruin said with a wry smile.
Very few people figured a recovering Dempsey would now be in the middle of such impact goal-scoring — in Major League Soccer or for the U.S. men’s national team.
But after six matches, Dempsey has scored six goals — four with the national team in World Cup qualifying, two with the Sounders.
Most importantly, his body feels strong, ready and willing.
“Every game has different rhythms,” Dempsey said Thursday. “I feel like I am progressing and getting more comfortable being on the pitch. When you are more confident, you express yourself a little more. It’s fun to be out there.”
The talk all along during the preseason was to ease Dempsey back into full-speed action, even if that meant limiting his minutes or sitting him for a match or two. But that hasn’t been the case.
U.S. men’s national team duty is another matter. And heading into World Cup qualifying tilts against Honduras and Panama, even Dempsey wasn’t sure how long he could go under higher-intensity stakes.
But he emphatically answered the call. Against Honduras, Dempsey became the oldest player on a U.S. men’s team to tally a hat trick against international competition in a 6-0 victory.
“I have been playing 90 minutes in MLS games,” Dempsey said. “Playing internationally in World Cup qualifiers has a little extra incentive — win or go home.”
And he added his team’s only goal in a 1-1 tie with Panama, bringing his career U.S. national-team total to 56 goals — one short of Landon Donovan’s record set from 2000-2014.
Dempsey admitted Thursday that the turnaround of playing in Panama, taking a long flight back to Seattle, then getting in a day of training before the Sounders’ home match Friday against Atlanta was a challenge.
“I was just trying to do everything I could to make sure I was ready if I was called upon … to make an impact,” Dempsey said.
Early in the second half, coach Brian Schmetzer turned to Dempsey as a substitute. A minute after entering the action, a spry Dempsey nearly scored on a header, which bounced off the right post in the team’s scoreless tie.
“Maybe in the grand scheme of things with the time off, he let his body recover,” Bruin said. “He is playing well. And he is the type of player that raises everybody else’s game. You want to play better for him.”
After the match Friday, Schmetzer was asked if Dempsey’s early production was a surprising development.
“It’s an added bonus that he’s scoring goals, and certainly we hope his goal-scoring form continues with us, and not just with the national team,” Schmetzer said.
“The expectations (of Dempsey) were always in line with reality. We didn’t know if he was going to come back. Now that we have him back and have a set path, we know what we can do and what we can’t do. We’re happy to have him.”