There was an understandable disconnect between the quality of the rumors linking United States Men’s National Team mainstay Clint Dempsey and Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, and their reception.
Dempsey was noticed on Twitter at an airport here in the U.S. as his team, Tottenham Hotspur, prepared to face AS Monaco in a friendly, led to a frenzy of speculation that he’d soon be signing on with an American club.
This was promptly dismissed in many reputable quarters, though. Potential transfer rumors had lived far longer on far less. And the very aspects of the move that made most observers doubt the idea of Dempsey to the Sounders are what make it one of the most significant, if not the most significant, in MLS history.
There’s the money: $9 million transfer fee paid to Tottenham Hotspur, a team used to buying players for that much and more. There’s Dempsey’s contract, which is $32 million over four years, the richest annual salary in league history, trumping Thierry Henry and yes, even David Beckham.
But there’s also the reality of Dempsey, 30 years old and right in the prime of his career, choosing to join Major League Soccer over the Spurs, where contention for a UEFA Champions League place for next season is a distinct possibility, or Everton, another rumored Premier League suitor, or any number of teams in other European leagues with Champions League spots for this season already secured.
That Seattle was even in position to make such a move speaks to the massive success of the project that has been the Sounders. They are drawing enormous crowds to CenturyLink Field, and have the financial wherewithal to maximize one of their three designated player slots on a player like Dempsey, who instantly becomes the focal point of a team that, as of right now, is on the outside of the league’s generous playoff picture.
The Sounders, for all their fan support and team success, haven’t won an MLS Cup. Now they have a chance to do so with the highest-profile American player, creating a true must-see moment for domestic soccer fans who have, if television ratings are to be believed, taken on the cause of USMNT and our best players overseas to a far greater extent than our domestic league.
But Dempsey choosing MLS also serves as inherent validation for the league, a place considered limiting for top national team players intent upon keeping their form and impressing coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The coach has reportedly expressed concern about this move by Dempsey, but unlike a player on the edges of his selection pool, Dempsey has the power to prove Klinsmann wrong over this period of time ahead of Brazil 2014.
We’ll hear more about Dempsey’s reasoning Saturday night, when he is expected to be introduced by the Sounders. But really, all the pieces of how this came about make sense. It just caught most people by surprise, because until recently, those pieces hadn’t fit together.
They do now. Major League Soccer, America’s top league, is a perfectly suitable place for Clint Dempsey, America’s top player. That’s a very big deal indeed.