Clint Dempsey is back in Seattle after suffering a right hamstring injury while training with the United States national soccer team.
Back home, Seattle Sounders FC, where Dempsey is a standout forward, isn’t treating this injury any differently because it occurred in Zurich rather than Tukwila.
“It’s next man up,” Sounders FC general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “Our goal is to win MLS Cup, and MLS Cup gets played in December. … If Clint’s out for a while, it gives other guys opportunities. Hopefully, those guys will take them. And if they don’t, we’ll keep looking.”
Lagerwey said the Sounders hadn’t examined Dempsey and therefore were unable to estimate his recovery time. However, U.S. Soccer said Dempsey would likely miss two to three weeks. If that’s correct, Dempsey will miss the Saturday match at early Western Conference leader FC Dallas, the home date against Houston the following weekend, and perhaps an always-significant match at Los Angeles the weekend after that.
Even without the injury, Dempsey would have missed the Texas teams. For reasons unexplained, MLS gave the Sounders an early bye last weekend while returning them to action over the next two weekends, which conflict with U.S. national team friendlies Wednesday against Denmark and March 31 against Switzerland. Seattle also will be without midfielder Marco Pappa, who was called in by his native Guatemala.
U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann called 23 players to Europe, including six from MLS rosters. Dempsey is the national team captain, which must add to his value there. Klinsmann also has said he hoped to build the forward partnership between Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, who was called in from Toronto. And that may have been significant, because after Dempsey’s departure, his roster spot was not filled.
The Sounders aren’t the only MLS team weakened by this scheduling — not by a long shot. An unofficial count by Washington Post soccer writer Steven Goff shows 58 MLS players called away by their various national teams during this FIFA period of international matches. Six are from FC Dallas, meaning that despite the loss of goals-leader Dempsey, the Sounders could actually gain an advantage from that collision of MLS and U.S. Soccer scheduling.
“The league’s philosophy in general is to schedule a little more thinly in March than in July,” Lagerwey said. “For example, for the simple reason of the climate and stuff like that, and if you look at ticket sales, you do a little bit better in the summer. In general, we try to avoid FIFA windows, but it’s not always possible.”
This summer, MLS will play through Copa America, which runs June 11 through July 4, and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which runs July 7-26.
The U.S. national team will meet Mexico on April 15, between the Sounders games at Los Angeles and Colorado. The USA goes on to meet Netherlands and Germany in Europe on June 5 and 10, respectively, while the Sounders play at Kansas City on June 6 and meet Dallas on June 13.
The national team then plays a cluster of three games on U.S. soil from July 7-13, while the Sounders visit Chicago on July 11. The Chicago Fire visits Seattle on Sept. 5, during a FIFA period for official or friendly matches, but the Sounders have no games during a similar period in October.
Also, as it did last season, the league will take time off during its playoffs for a FIFA period in November.