Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey says he remains optimistic that forward Clint Dempsey will be ready to participate in the opening of training camp later this month, but otherwise struck a cautious tone as it related to the forward's recovery from an irregular heartbeat.
Dempsey was initially sidelined back in August. He returned to training for a brief period in September, but when symptoms resurfaced, he was shut down completely for the rest of the season, missing the Sounders run to the 2016 MLS Cup.
Since then, the goal has been to get Dempsey ready for training camp. The Sounders forward could be seen training on the side in the days leading up to his team's MLS Cup final triumph over Toronto FC. Lagerwey emphasized that since then, Dempsey has continued to make progress, and has shown a "great" attitude.
"Dempsey is participating now, he's running," said Lagerwey in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC. "Will he be 90-minutes match fit at the start of training camp? No, but nor will many of our guys given how long they played [last season].
"We're going to take it easy at the beginning, but we'll ramp him back up slowly. You've got to be safe with him."
Lagerwey added that he didn't know if Dempsey would have any physical limitations when training camp starts around Jan. 22, but reiterated that Seattle would approach Dempsey's continued recovery with an abundance of caution.
"Dempsey hasn't played soccer in six months," said Lagerwey. "You don't overcome that in a day or a week. You've got to get fit and play soccer and all those kinds of things. We'll be carefully monitoring every step of the way in that process."
Lagerwey's assessment sounded more measured than that of U.S. national team manager Bruce Arena, who said in a Facebook chat with fans that: "We really believe that by March [Dempsey] will be ready to play in Seattle and be a possibility for our qualifiers."
But when Lagerwey was asked if Dempsey would be ready for the start of the season in March, he said: "We don't know. Sure, we're hopeful, but honestly, I don't know if we even control that.
"We are going to do our best to try to get him ready to play in a safe manner, and if it happens, great, and if it doesn't, then we'll be patient and wait as long as it takes."