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Sounders' Clint Dempsey wins MLS Comeback Player

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2017, file photo, Seattle Sounders' Clint Dempsey, left, kicks the ball away from Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Aly Ghazal as Sounders' Harry Shipp (19) looks on during an MLS soccer Western Conference semifinal match in Seattle. Dempsey has been named the MLS Comeback Player of the Year after a heart condition in 2016 put his career in jeopardy. Dempsey was the choice after scoring 12 goals in the 2017 regular season and leading Seattle to a second-place finish in the MLS Western Conference. The Sounders will face Houston in the Western Conference finals beginning Nov. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) — Inside Clint Dempsey's chest sits a monitor that is constantly collecting data. That data then gets transmitted so doctors can scrutinize the results and make sure that Dempsey's heart — the one that nearly derailed his career more than a year ago — is functioning properly.

Dempsey has gotten past worrying about the irregular heartbeat that sidelined him last year. He no longer sits around waiting to feel an unnatural beat. The only time he thinks about it is when someone brings it up.

A full season of playing back at an elite level has eased Dempsey's concerns.

"I just think I got more comfortable, more confident, not thinking about it too much," Dempsey told The Associated Press in an interview this week. "It's always kind of a weird thing when you come back from an injury, especially with your heart. You're always listening, feeling at night, thinking about it when you're training and then making sure you're having normal beats and stuff like that and checking on it. You just come to a point where you're not thinking about it as much and that's when you kind of get over it."

Dempsey was named the MLS Comeback Player of the Year on Wednesday, acknowledging his play in a season where he again became the leading scorer for the Seattle Sounders and reclaimed a place on the U.S. national team. The Americans fell short in World Cup qualifying, ending Dempsey's bid to play in a fourth World Cup.

Federico Higuain of Columbus and Erick Torres of Houston were the other finalists.

Dempsey had 12 goals in the MLS regular season and added two more in Seattle's conference semifinal victory over Vancouver. He'll be at the center of attention next week when the Sounders open the Western Conference finals against Houston.

The conference finals come a year after Dempsey could only watch during Seattle's run to an MLS Cup title, and his own future as a soccer player was in question.

"Everything is good. As far as I know everything is good. I still have a chip, a monitor inside my chest that sends data back to the doctors so they can see if there are any irregularities and so far everything has been good. I'll probably keep it in for another year," Dempsey said.

Dempsey is still hesitant to go into details about his condition. He emphasizes it was not life-threatening but it was life-altering. There were moments when his heart would be beating at a more rapid pace than it should for the amount of exertion. That was the trigger that eventually led to numerous examinations and ultimately two procedures, one of which was to install the monitor.

Even after he was cleared to return, Dempsey said it was a few months into the MLS season before he started to feel normal again.

"I probably really didn't start feeling really good until I'd say May, June. That's when I started feeling like my numbers were where they used to be," Dempsey said. "Early in the season we were looking at the numbers in March and April and they really weren't where I used to be. I could feel the difference as well, but you could also see it in the numbers."

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said he felt bad for having to lean on Dempsey early in the season when Seattle got off to a slow start.

"I had to play Clint almost every game. I didn't really get a chance to give him a day off here, a day off there. He was doing whatever he could to help the team," Schmetzer said.

This season has proven so positive for Dempsey there's discussions about a new contract with Seattle. The Sounders can exercise an option on Dempsey for next season but it's not friendly to the team's salary structure. A new deal could be more beneficial for the team and all but ensure Dempsey finishes his career in Seattle.

"You'd like to stick around," Dempsey said. "The club has been great to me. They stood by me during all the heart issues and stuff like that. It's been a great place to play. I would definitely love to end my career here."

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