TORONTO — Throughout Clint Dempsey’s five-month layoff after being identified with an irregular heartbeat final season, few moments had been as poignant because the Seattle Sounders’ last observe earlier than final yr’s MLS Cup last.
As his teammates had been jovially collaborating in group drills and strolling by means of set performs, Dempsey was alone down close to considered one of BMO Discipline’s nook flags, performing some gentle conditioning. Because the Sounders ready for the most important recreation of a few of their lives, Dempsey was simply starting the ramp up towards a 2017 return no person was certain would really occur.
For out of doors observers, that snapshot spoke volumes. For Dempsey, although, it wasn’t fairly like that. There was no single second that encapsulated his lengthy exile from the sport, no all-time low.
“Not likely, as a result of I’ve had profession,” Dempsey mentioned earlier this week. “I have been blessed with all the issues I’ve achieved. I wasn’t going to sit down there and be too grasping. Clearly you wish to exit by yourself phrases, however there was by no means a second that was actually, actually low.”
Likewise, the storyline of his coming again to Toronto at full energy for one more Cup last (Saturday at four p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) — having not solely returned to motion however scored 12 targets within the common season plus three extra these playoffs — is irresistible.
Grand, sweeping narratives, nonetheless, have by no means been Dempsey’s factor. He has persistently swatted away the notion that this playoff run has been any extra particular, within the total arc of his profession, given final yr’s well being scare. He downplays the concept that returning to BMO Discipline has any better significance, than, say a championship recreation at Jap Convention runner-up Columbus would have been.
“Personally, it is nice to be again taking part in on the sector,” Dempsey mentioned earlier this week with typical understatement. “It actually reveals the character of this staff to do it twice in a row, maintain preventing all yr. We’re in an important place to attempt to repeat, and I hope I can play a component in it.”
That’s his means. The previous captain and joint all-time main scorer of the U.S. males’s nationwide staff is inscrutable. If his recreation is spontaneous and multi-faceted, he is at all times tried to maintain his personal life as low-key as potential.
That is to not say Dempsey lacks for motivation; no participant might have achieved all that he has and not using a burning aggressive spirit. I believe he is extra pushed to interrupt that tie with Landon Donovan for the U.S. scoring document than he lets on. Certainly, the now-defunct risk of taking part in in a fourth World Cup subsequent summer time held some enchantment.
But time has a means of sanding down tough edges. It has been an extended whereas since Dempsey was thought of the underdog outsider, making an attempt to first show himself in opposition to and later surpass generational friends like Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard.
“Being able towards the tip, with the ability to maintain my household in a great way … there are issues that I am at peace with,” Dempsey mentioned earlier this yr. “Possibly I did not have that peace after I was youthful, as a result of I hadn’t achieved these issues.”
That helps to elucidate why he was in a position to so rapidly shrug off the frustration of the U.S.’s failed qualification. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer went so far as to publicly query whether or not his star ahead could be in the best head area to assist with the playoff push, however Dempsey assured him that he was nonetheless dedicated to the trigger and has lived as much as that promise since.
Dempsey just lately signed a contract extension, to the shock of some membership observers, guaranteeing he’ll be in Seattle for at the very least one other yr even with out the carrot of one other potential World Cup look. He likes that his youngsters are sufficiently old to type reminiscences of watching him play, and he is having fun with himself for the time being, so why not?
Profitable MLS Cup most likely would not crack his private prime tier of feats, from scoring in three completely different World Cups to serving to Fulham attain the Europa League last in 2010. But it might test off one other un-ticked field. For all of his particular person success, Dempsey hasn’t racked up all that a lot silverware, at the very least not on the membership stage.
“I actually do not take a look at particular person awards all that a lot, to be trustworthy with you,” Dempsey mentioned upon being named 2017 MLS Comeback Participant of the Yr. “It is extra about simply having fun with the sport, the place you are at, and benefiting from your profession. There are ups and downs on the curler coaster of anyone’s profession.
“The issues that imply probably the most, that I am going to most likely look again on, would be the video games that I performed in, the massive moments and the battles. That is what I am going to look again on.”
Saturday is one other a kind of massive moments, and guarantees to be a battle of the MLS titans. Simply soak it in, and do not take something as a right.
That, if something, comes closest to matching Dempsey’s late-career motto, and it does not must be any extra profound or introspective than that.