More than 40,000 Sounders FC fans showed up Sunday afternoon for the home opener of Seattle’ws MLS season. This meant the question was asked, oh, some 40,000 times during the team’s 1-0 defeat to Los Angeles FC.
Where was Clint Dempsey?
The team’s returning 2017 scoring leader with 12 goals and five assists, Dempsey is on the short list of greatest U.S. players in the history of the sport. And though he was named the league’s Comeback Player of the Year last season, the veteran forward will turn 35 on Friday.
There’s a very good chance 2018 will be the last of his 14-year career pro career. But he didn’t start Sunday, and didn’t finish, and didn’t see one second of action in between.
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What was that about?
“There were some choices with rest,” head coach Brian Schmetzer explained, “and some choices with injury concerns.”
Schmetzer considered the idea of using Dempsey in a limited role — say, during the final 10 minutes — but the coach decided otherwise.
“One of the choices I have to wear,” Schmetzer said. “Could he have gone out there as a late sub? Maybe. But we’re trying to limit his minutes early on and trying to make sure he’s ready Wednesday.”
Wednesday would be the COMACAF Champions League match against C.D. Guadajalara at CenturyLink Field, where the Sounders will play their third game in six days.
“Our coaches, trainers and medical staff need to make sure our guys are guys are ready to go after a short season,” said Schmetzer, whose team could have used Dempsey during its lethargic half.
The visitors, representing an eagerly anticipated expansion franchise bankrolled by an ownership group including Magic Johnson, Will Ferrell, Nomar Garciaparra and his wife Mia Hamm Garciaparra, brought energy to the pitch typical of a club making its debut. When forward Diego Rossi blasted a 19-yard shot past Stefan Frei for a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute, LAFC had the scoring it would need.
Afterward, Schmetzer was asked if there were any positives to be gleaned from a rare home loss that left his record in Seattle at 21-2-7. Schmetzer paused for a full five seconds before finally offering, “we didn’t give up.”
As it often happens with the Sounders, a halftime lineup adjustment — midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikren subbing for defender Ramon Torres, with Gustav Svenson moving from midfield to the back line turned the momentum around.
The Green Rave peppered goalkeeper Tyler Miller, a former Sounders product LAFC selected as the first pick of the expansion draft last December, with 12 second-half shots. Miller was able to deflect most of them, and the shots he was unable to get his hands on hit the post.
Meanwhile, Frei spent the brunt of the second half as a spectator, making one save.
“This was an example of how goals can change a game,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. “They managed to take care of one of or two chances and were able to bunker down.
“It’s on us,” Roldan continued. “Historically, we don’t show up for the first 20 minutes. Then all the sudden, in the second half, we turn it on. It’s almost like a switch. We’ve got to work to implement high energy — a high intensity style — in the first 10 minutes of the game.”
The Sounders ended up with a 22-5 shot advantage, but because of those first 10 minutes, the offensive flurry was moot.
“Some crazy bounces,” concluded Schmetzer. “Our sport is brutal at times when you look at the stat sheet. At the same time I can just turn it over and say: “We lost 1-0.”