Star forward Clint Dempsey will not return to the field for the Sounders this season, the club said Tuesday. Dempsey underwent a procedure for an irregular heartbeat earlier this month, He returned to training for a few days, then disappeared again.
“We said a couple weeks ago that Clint Dempsey’s health was our priority,” Sounders GM Garth Lagerway told media at practice Tuesday. “Unfortunately, we are going to rule him out for the rest of the season. As you know, he had returned to training, not to play, and we haven’t been able to get to a point where we were comfortable that there was a realistic chance that he could return.
“We are not comfortable putting any kind of pressure on this. His return to play is not important relative to his health, both short-term and long-term, and we feel that by ruling him out today it puts us in the best long-term position to eventually get him back, hopefully for the 2017 season.”
Dempsey’s heart condition was first revealed Aug. 26, when the club said Demspey would be out indefinitely while undergoing evaluations. The 33-year-old returned to practice Sep. 14 and took part in side drills with training staff for a few days before going absent.
Team officials said that while Dempsey was still in Seattle, he was not at the training facility during practices.
Interim head coach Brian Schmetzer said he had been preparing the whole time as though Dempsey would not return.
“The mantra is, ‘One game at a time,’” Schmetzer said Tuesday. “Every game that he’s not available, that’s when I started (preparing). I knew he wasn’t going to play (in Portland), and I had to prepare the rest of the team . . . For me, we don’t have a ton of time, five games left, and we need to win each one.”
Schmetzer went on to say that compensating for Dempsey, whom he called the greatest field player in American history, was a tall order.
“How do you replace him? Tough,” he said. “We know now we have to go on to thinking about the future with and without Clint. We certainly hope he’s back, but we’re a big enough club and a smart enough club to make sure there’s Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.”
Dempsey is contracted through the end of the 2017 season.
Seattle (11-13-5) will press on without their highest-paid player, three points back from the red line as they host the Chicago Fire Wednesday (7:30 p.m., JoeTV).
The club has taken the pressure off Dempsey, saying they will offer no updates on his status or condition until the beginning of training camp for the 2017 season. The pressure has shifted to the remaining players, who seek to avoid an absence from the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.