U.S. soccer hero and former captain of the Men's National Team, Clint Dempsey, has been cleared to return to training camp with his MLS club team, the Seattle Sounders.
The Sounders are coming off the biggest season in club history after defeating Toronto to win the team's first MLS Cup. And they did so without the help of their star forward, Dempsey. He'd been grounded since being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat in August, missing the Sounders' championship run and all National Team matches in the last six months while doctors treated the condition.
Now he has been fully cleared to train with the team and participated in all practice exercises on Tuesday. The Sounders have just entered preseason training and the excitement about Dempsey's return came fast and loud:
After a huge championship win under a new head coach, Brian Schmetzer, fans have even more to look forward to with Dempsey's return and what his leadership will mean to the team's young players. Dempsey is Seattle's highest-paid player and, whether as scorer or veteran presence, a valuable part of the team. Their achievement without him should signal only further success with him.
Preseason training started this week and continues until the Sounders' season opener against Houston. Before the regular season, though, Dempsey has a chance to test his recovery in the Carolina Challenge Cup, a weeklong tournament starting February 18 in Charleston, SC. His recovery is still in progress and he's only just begun full practices with the team, so it will be important to see whether or not he plays in the tournament and if he does, how well.
Meanwhile, there has been no word about a return to the USMNT. Teammates Jordan Morris and Brad Evans were absent from club training because they're currently preparing for the National Team's upcoming World Cup qualifying matches against Honduras and Panama. After an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Costa Rica and a shocking defeat to Mexico, the U.S. sits in last place in the Hexagonal Round of qualifying.
Only finishing in the top three will automatically earn them a spot in the next round. The U.S. has made it through qualifying in seven consecutive World Cups, but their place in Russia is by no means guaranteed. Especially after November's losses, the team has, once again, positioned itself as underdogs. Hopefully that will lead to the same kind of energy that rallied them onward in Brazil 2014.
Currently, it looks like Dempsey won't be playing in the USMNT's next qualifiers, on March 4 against Honduras and on March 8 against Panama. But the hope for U.S. fans is that his season with the Sounders will put him back in peak form and prepare him for a return to a National Team entering the Group Stage of next year's World Cup.