Though Dempsey had a plethora of chances to deliver his first truly defining moment as a Sounder, that moment didn’t come Saturday. While the Timbers were putting together a clinic on how to win a road playoff game, Dempsey ended the night having been unable to lift the team in the way he was expected to back when he was unveiled as a dream signing for the Sounders. Dempsey took corner kick after corner kick, had a handful of free kicks and took a bunch of promising shots, but Dempsey couldn’t work his magic on a night the Sounders desperately needed some.
The list of missed opportunities was both varied and impressive. He saw a goal-bound free kick thwarted by an astounding Donovan Ricketts save in the 20th minute and an 87th-minute header blast off the crossbar. Dempsey also saw a clear look at goal go wide of the target in the 75th minute, in what might have been his best look of the night.
Then, to cap off the night, Dempsey got his head on a late chance that went right to Ricketts. It wasn’t his best chance, but it served as the fitting end to a night the U.S. national team star won’t want to remember.
To his credit, Dempsey was upbeat after the match, seeing his plethora of missed chances as a sign he is starting to find his game with Seattle.
“I had my chances tonight,” Dempsey said. “I was happy with the looks I got, and getting touches on the ball. It just seemed like one of those nights it wasn’t going to go in for me.”
“That’s what we expect from Clint. Creating chances,” said Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. “Sometimes they go in, sometimes they hit the bar, and sometimes the keeper makes a really good save like he did on the free kick.
“Eventually, if you hit the ball on target enough, it’s going to go in eventually. No matter how bad it is, it’s going to go in eventually.”
Dempsey has struggled to make his mark since joining Seattle in the summer with his lack of a preseason with the club affecting not only his familiarity with his teammates, but his fitness. He has managed just one goal since joining the Sounders and he is dealing with some injuries at the moment, including the lingering effects of a shoulder injury suffered in last month's loss to Portland.
To their credit, the Timbers did a good job of keeping Dempsey from having a ton of space to operate, and the fact he still managed to find looks is a testament to his quality despite being clearly fatigued.
“That’s two games now that we’ve played against him,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter told Goal. “He gets his time on the ball, but the key is we don’t want to let him get around the goal, and get in behind us.
“Our whole goal was to make sure that if they get chances, it’s from wide service, and it’s shots from distance,” Porter added. “That’s pretty much what they had. They weren’t really able to get behind us one time. They weren’t able to break us down. Clint got a lot of the ball underneath us, but rarely got the ball in a critical spot to beat us in the run of play.”
Dempsey’s frustrating night was eased a bit in the 90th minute, when Osvaldo Alonso’s last-minute goal gave the Sounders a lifeline heading into Thursday’s second leg. That game will present another opportunity for Dempsey to play the hero, and with a few extra days of rest, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid believes his marquee player will deliver.
“I think you’re going to see a guy who’s pretty close to fitness next Thursday,” Schmid said of Dempsey. “I think this was a hard week, and when you play three games you certainly build a lot of fitness, so we just have to give him a chance to recover and I think you’ll see a fully fit guy on Thursday.”