TUKWILA — Clint Dempsey has a ring — and a grudge.
He still hasn’t won an MLS Cup on the field.
As the veteran striker sat in the press box last season at BMO Field, sidelined by a heart issue, his teammates defeated host Toronto FC in a shootout to capture the club’s first league title.
A year later, the 34-year-old is not only healthy, but he is extra driven to assist on a repeat effort.
“When he tells me after the year is over, ‘I want to go out on my feet’ — he means what he says,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “He doesn’t tell lies. He is ultra-motivated.”
Dempsey reached two MLS Cup finals with the New England Revolution in his second and third seasons in the MLS.
Both times, his squad lost to Houston.
Last season, he was a key cog in Seattle’s mid-summer surge up the Western Conference standings, scoring five goals in August after the club acquired Nico Lodeiro.
But in late August, he began suffered from an irregular heartbeat. The club shut him down for the rest of the season in September.
Midfielder Cristian Roldan saw a different Dempsey return once this season began, on and off the field.
“Maybe he changed his mentality a little bit — scary moments can do that,” Roldan said. “Clint has always been motivated —he just hasn’t shown it. Now he shows it a little bit, and it is incredible to see. He is a guy that is always happy.”
It is not just in his production, although Dempsey tallied 12 goals to lead the Sounders during the regular season, and was named the MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
He is back playing with great flair and passion, living for the biggest moments.
And in his first Western Conference playoff appearance at home against Vancouver, Dempsey scored both goals in the club’s 2-0 series-clinching victory.
Last Thursday, Dempsey added a career-best third playoff goal on a feed from Joevin Jones in Seattle’s 3-0 victory that eliminated Houston in the conference finals.
Before the club departed for Toronto on Wednesday, in his final media interview, Dempsey made sure to make most of this quest about his team, not himself.
“Personally, it is great to be back playing on the field,” Dempsey said. “And it shows the character of the team doing it (reaching the MLS Cup) twice in a row. Hopefully, I can play a part in it.”
A big part in it.
“Clint,” Schmetzer said, “wants to help this team repeat as champions.”