Clint Dempsey revels in hat trick that powered U.S. to 6-0 rout of Honduras.
san jose — In the months leading to a World Cup qualifier that the United States was desperate to win, Clint Dempsey wasn’t sure he would ever play soccer again.
Never mind earning an invitation to training camp, being asked by Bruce Arena 48 hours before kickoff whether he would be able to start, scoring three goals in 22 minutes, offering a military salute to an appreciative audience, accepting Jozy Altidore’s offer to take a free kick to complete the hat trick, closing within two goals of the program’s career record and inspiring a 6-0 romp over Honduras on Friday.
Sidelined for six months with an irregular heartbeat, Dempsey saw his stellar career hanging in the balance through the Seattle Sounders’ MLS championship run and a long winter of doctors’ visits, tests and reflection. The national team was the furthest thing from his mind.
“There’s always the possibility you are not going to be able to come back and be at that high level,” said Dempsey, who turned 34 this month. “You have to work hard and make sure everything is right. It was a tough process. I went through that, not really knowing.
“You’re just grateful for every day, grateful for every game you get to play in because you never know when it’s going to be taken from you.”
Given the medical path he had to follow and the waiting that accompanied it, Dempsey didn’t seem to mind being the last one out of the Avaya Stadium locker room after random selection for drug-testing. The team bus was long gone; he returned to the hotel in the equipment van.
“There’s moments where you are sitting at home and praying it’s going to work out,” he continued. “Just blessed that I can keep going. It’s what I love to do. Hopefully there is some time left.”
There’s time to make U.S. history. With his second international hat trick, Dempsey raised his goal haul to 55, two short of Landon Donovan’s career record. What once seemed like a remote pursuit now appears inevitable. He will get a crack at it Tuesday at Panama, another important match in the Americans’ climb back into qualifying contention after they lost their first two finalround games last fall.
Had the United States been at full strength for these pair of matches, Dempsey likely would have been in reserve. However, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris, Dempsey’s Seattle teammate, picked up injuries in their last club games before reporting for U.S. duty.
“We didn’t have anyone else. Made it easy for me,” Arena said, grinning. On a serious note: “Watching Clint from game one to game three with Seattle, it was impressive the way he kept improving. He played late Sunday, comes in late Sunday night, a little training Monday, feels good. It’s remarkable. I said, ‘He’s got to play.’ ”
Confirmation of a starting role came Wednesday.
“You know me,” Dempsey said. “I’m a fighter, so I’m looking for the opportunity to get out there and show that I should be around still. It was great to play a part.”
Dempsey went the distance, meshing with Altidore and 18year-old sensation Christian Pulisic in producing the U.S. team’s largest output in the final round of qualifying since the six-team format was implemented ahead of the 1998 World Cup.
Dempsey and Arena have history. As a young east Texan, he was part of Arena’s first tenure as U.S. coach, scoring against Ghana in the 2006 World Cup.
“I owe a lot to Bruce,” he said. “It’s great to come full circle again.”
Against Honduras, Dempsey’s first goal installed a three-goal lead before halftime and all but secured three points.
Pulisic made it possible with a scoop pass. Dempsey settled it with his right shoulder and, while falling, unleashed a venomous shot into the top of the net.
Four minutes into the second half, Pulisic sent him in alone for a composed finish and 5-0 lead. Then in the 54th, Pulisic drew a foul a few strides beyond the penalty area.
Dempsey wasn’t planning to take it. “Take it,” Altidore said. With the goalkeeper cheating forward, Dempsey sent a swerving, high effort to the back side of the target.
“Man, he’s a beast,” midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “I’m sure in the back of his head, he’s going for that scoring record, even though he won’t admit it. I’m just so happy for him.”
Of Donovan’s mark, Dempsey said: “It’s in your mind. If it comes, it comes. If it don’t, it don’t. I’m going to keep pushing. The most important thing is qualifying for the World Cup. That’s more important than me trying to break a record.”
Arena makes roster moves
Two players who started Friday were among four dropped from the roster ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in Panama.
Midfielder Sebastian Lletget, who scored the opening goal before leaving moments later with a left foot injury, will return to the Los Angeles Galaxy for further evaluation. John Brooks, a starting central defender who left in the 70th minute with an illness stemming from what the U.S. delegation said was a sinus infection, will return to German club Hertha Berlin.
Forward Jordan Morris and defender Michael Orozco, who were not in uniform Friday, were released.
Clint Dempsey has scored 55 goals for the U.S. national team, two short of Landon Donovan’s record.