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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dempsey to the Sounders and what it means to the player, the league and US Soccer

Photo credit: Men's Health
Few American soccer fans believed the rumors when it was said that Clint Dempsey would be coming back to MLS with the Seattle Sounders. Even fewer believed the headlines when the story was broken that this was indeed true. Maybe "believed" wasn't the right word. Maybe it was a collective "really?" and it can be taken both positively and negatively.

To start, yes, it's true that the former New England Revolution player has secured a $9 million transfer from Tottenham to the Seattle Sounders effective immediately. He will be presented to the press in the next couple of days. But what are the implications?

For Dempsey it became clear this past off-season that his playing time with Spurs would be more difficult given the probable sale of Gareth Bale and the financial muscle the team would acquire to shop for players similar to Dempsey. A $9 million transfer to another European club would be difficult to see given his age (30). His dream of a club big enough to play in the Champions League fronting that much cash is also, frankly, not likely.

For Major League Soccer, adding Dempsey is its biggest move since signing Beckham in 2007. Why? Dempsey is an American hero. He has scored clutch goals again and again for the national team, including the game-tying tally versus England in South Africa 2010. Without that goal, the US would have been unlikely to go on to the elimination round.

The MLS that Dempsey left seven years ago was a fledgling league still looking for a voice, stability and passion. And while teams like DC United and the LA Galaxy had broken ground in American sports culture, much still lacked to make the league truly relevant. MLS would need Beckham, Altidore, and Seattle to change course. And change it did.

Clint Dempsey saw the necessary changes in the league when he played in a World Cup Qualifier versus Panama in the Emerald City. He saw the passion of Sounders fans and a city in love with its team and the sport. He also spoke with Eddie Johnson, a player whose career was resurrected by the club, and that, perhaps, sealed it for Dempsey.

For US Soccer and its fans this transfer may not be ideal. For one, Klinsmann isn't enamored with the idea of his team captain and MVP to leave the world's best league and return to America. For the fans it seems like a step back for a player that brought American soccer to incredible heights during his one season with Tottenham Hotspur. He punished Manchester United and scored and saved his team several times. Might his form diminish playing in the United States? Will he be as strong a player versus demanding competition in a World Cup? Tough questions with interesting answers and not all of us like the outcomes.

In the end it was a personal decision. He would bring his family back to the US. He would get an even bigger paycheck and become the top player in the league. He would make history by breaking records with his transfer. And he would, perhaps, finally win a tournament. Because that, ultimately, is what Dempsey desires and deserves the most.

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