Clint Dempsey: “I’m a fighter. Look for the opportunity to get out there and show that I should be around still.” (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The heart and soul of the U.S. national team was sidelined for several key World Cup qualifiers and the Seattle Sounders’ march to the MLS Cup last year due to an irregular heartbeat.
In his return to international competition Friday night, Clint Dempsey played his heart out and then some.
Dempsey made a spectacular comeback, recording a hat-trick in only 54 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 shellacking of Honduras at Avaya Stadium.
“I’m a fighter,” Dempsey told reporters after the match. “Look for the opportunity to get out there and show that I should be around still.”
The veteran striker admitted he had some doubts on returning to play and to form after he was sidelined last summer.
“You don’t know if things are going to work,” Dempsey said. “You don’t know if you’re going to come back to Seattle, also if you’re going to do well enough to get called back into the U.S. team, how you’re going to perform. You still want to be someone in games who can make an impact.
“Yeah, there’s moments where you’re sitting at home praying and hoping things work out. I’m just blessed I can keep going. It’s something I love to do. Hopefully, there’s more time left.”
Last week Dempsey showed his form in Seattle’s 3-1 home win at CenturyLink Field, his team’s home opener that celebrated last year’s Major League Soccer championship. He scored a goal and made life miserable for the New York defense.
“Checking with his fitness coaches there, we knew he could play,” U.S. head coach Bruce Arena said.
He already had been called into the national team, but was down the depth chart. Then, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris could not play due to injuries and Arena selected the 34-year-old veteran.
“We didn’t have anyone else,” Arena said. “It made it easy for me.”
Dempsey struck within a 22-minute span in the 32nd, 49th and 54th minutes. By the time the dust settled, he had 55 career international goals, trailing only Landon Donovan, the U.S. all-time goals leader (57).
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue to score some goals and be able to break it,” Dempsey said. “But the most important thing is to qualify for the World Cup. That’s bigger than me trying to break a record.”
Most importantly, the U.S. (1-2-0, 3 points) walked out of the stadium with three valuable qualifying points as it moved out of the CONCACAF hexagonal basement into fourth place.
“It felt great,” Dempsey said. “We were in a must-win situation. The whole team came out and played really well tonight. We pressed the game and we took our chances and put in a solid performance and got three points that we needed.”
Next in Dempsey’s and the U.S.’s sights is Panama in another qualifier in Panama City Tuesday night.
“We had our backs against the wall,” Dempsey said. “We had to stick together, we had to study tape, we had to make sure we came out here and gave our best performance because we want to qualify for the World Cup. It’s a huge three points, but the job’s not done. We’ve got to keep working together, keep sticking together and try to try to get as many points as we can so we can qualify.”