Based on the way his fast feet have been furiously flipping soccer balls around Seattle Sounders preseason training camp, star forward Clint Dempsey looks ready to take on Major League Soccer once again.
His teammates have been echoing that sentiment much of camp, too.
So what does arguably American’s greatest player have to say about his status after being off nearly six months with a heart issue?
“I am still working up (my fitness) now,” Dempsey said. “But I feel like I’m finally getting close — feeling 85 percent, 90 percent (healthy).”
For the first time since he was sidelined indefinitely last August, Dempsey talked to reporters at Starfire Sports about what life has been like after a health scare and what the past few months have been like.
“It has been difficult,” the 33-year-old Texas native said. “Throughout my career, this is probably the longest I’ve ever had to be out.”
And when he spoke Tuesday, his answers were a mixture of personal reflection and cautious optimism on his soccer future.
“I am at peace with what I’ve done in my career,” Dempsey said. “I am happy. I am married with four kids. I’ve got to enjoy life — and hopefully there is more life to enjoy.”
Dempsey said he started feeling a little off as far back as last February, but it was minimal. He said he felt normal playing in Copa America in June with the U.S. national team.
But right after he returned to the Sounders in July, Dempsey said he “started feeling more stuff.”
He played his final game Aug. 21 at home against Portland. Five days later, the team announced he would be sidelined for evaluation of an irregular heartbeat.
Dempsey returned to training in September for nearly a week, but admitted he started experiencing the same issues. The club announced it was shutting him down for the remainder of the season.
All Dempsey would confirm about his health was that he endured “a heart issue,” declining to share specifics.
“Everybody has kind of talked about it,” Dempsey said. “I don’t really want to throw that much (disclosure) into it. That is kind of my business.”
Dempsey was cleared by doctors to return to the start of preseason camp in January. He has not missed a day of activity, either.
As far as daily managing his health, he said he’s had to make sure he gets enough sleep.
“I took the proper time out that I needed to be out for what was going on,” Dempsey said. “I am feeling good now.”
The big question is, what happens next?
In the two preseason matches in Arizona, Dempsey played 30 minutes in the first and 45 minutes in the second. Dempsey thinks the Sounders will continue to increase his playing time when the club takes off for Charleston, South Carolina, on Thursday to play in the Carolina Challenge Cup.
“I think (we’ll keep) the same plan we’ve been on — progressing him slowly and surely, and making sure everything is OK,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
As far as the March 4 season opener in Houston? Schmetzer said that is still undetermined.
What the coach now sees on a daily basis is a motivated veteran abiding by a strict regimen — with a hint of self-reflection.
“I don’t know if this life-changing incident (is something) he’s opened up to many people; he is a private person, and we respect that,” Schmetzer said. “It is human nature ... to reflect back on that. It is a big deal.”
For the past two days, goalkeeper Stefan Frei (ankle) has participated in live drills. Schmetzer is keeping the door open that the reigning MLS Cup most valuable player could play in Charleston. ... Midfielders Harry Shipp (ankle) and Osvaldo Alonso (knee) continue to be limited to side work. ... Before their match Sunday, the Tacoma Stars honored Schmetzer by having him do a ceremonial “first kick.” He played for the team from 1988-90.