USMNT and Seattle Sounders star Clint Dempsey says he is cleared to play again

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Dempsey and the MLS champion Sounders are training in Tukwila, Wash. (AP Photo)
Dempsey and the MLS champion Sounders are training in Tukwila, Wash. (AP Photo)

It’s been almost six months since Clint Dempsey last played in a competitive game of soccer. He was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat after scoring twice against the Portland Timbers on Aug. 21, sidelining him for the remainder of the Major League Soccer season.

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In that span, his Seattle Sounders won MLS Cup without him, and the United States men’s national team he once captained lived through a coaching change and a disastrous start to the final round of World Cup qualifying.

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Yet in spite of their rather opposite fortunes, both teams sure could use him back. Dempsey turns 34 on March 9, but the national team’s second all-time leading scorer – his 52 goals trail Landon Donovan by just five – remains one of the most imaginative American attackers out there. And certainly the one who is most seasoned at the international level.

On Tuesday, Seattle soccer reporter Matt Pentz reported that Dempsey is ready to return to action when the new MLS season kicks off in early March – and possibly when the USA plays its next round of World Cup qualifiers on March 24 and 28.






This is very welcome news for the Sounders, who were pretty thin on their front line during their playoff run and had to rely on rookie Jordan Morris even as he carried an injury.

It could be even more significant to new U.S. manager Bruce Arena. He has spoken of the need for a better midfield passer for his national team, to get an attack that all too often looked flat and outnumbered under his predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann going again. But he could also use a creator higher up the field.

Dempsey thrived under Arena during the latter’s first spell in charge of the national team. In 2004, he got his debut under Arena, who was enamored with his fearlessness, and quickly made an impact. At the failed American 2006 World Cup campaign, Dempsey was one of the few Yanks to acquit himself well. It was this early national team period that laid the groundwork for his move to Fulham in the Premier League, where the Texan would have a triumphant and record-breaking run.

Now, Dempsey can return the favor to Arena. In Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood, the manager has a pair of capable strikers who can put away chances. And teenage prodigy Christian Pulisic will provide a threat from the flank. But Dempsey’s trickery and capacity to run at defenders and create space for others centrally remains a unique skill set, even as he embarks on his 13th full year on the national team.

There’s no telling what kind of Dempsey we will see after his return. Even though he’s loath to talk about it, he apparently had two separate procedures to address the issue. How much of a toll they will have taken is a matter of pure speculation at this point.

That said, if Dempsey returns to something that resembles his old blend of brawn and whimsy, he can still prove enormously useful to the U.S. men’s national team going forward. Even if it’s as an impact substitute.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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