Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey is closing in on full fitness after being cleared to return from an irregular heartbeat that had kept him out since August.
The U.S. national team veteran has been a full participant in training this preseason and logged 30 minutes in a match against the Portland Timbers on Saturday in Tucson, Arizona. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Dempsey confirmed he has been fully cleared to return to game action.
"It was a heart issue. It's something that's difficult to kind of explain," Dempsey said. "But at the same time I'm not feeling those things anymore and I'm happy to be back playing."
Dempsey last logged a competitive match Aug. 21, having sat out the regular season home stretch and playoffs as the Sounders went on a run to the MLS Cup title last fall. He hopes to mark his official return March 4, when the Sounders open the 2017 campaign on the road against the Houston Dynamo.
"I was able to consistently progress and work on my fitness and make sure everything was moving in the right direction," Dempsey said. "It started off slow and had to work my way up and still working up now but feeling like I’m finally getting close."
The 33-year-old hasn't played for the U.S. since the Copa America Centenario last summer, sitting out World Cup qualifiers in September and November, as well as recent friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica.
Bruce Arena's U.S. side returns to the field for key qualifiers against Honduras and Panama in late March.
"It would be great to get back in with the U.S. team," Dempsey said. "But to do that I have to do well here and that's the main focus — [it's] here with Seattle and making an impact on the field here."