COMMENTARY | It was the transfer rumor thought to be so ridiculous that it was laughed off by fans and analysts alike when it arose on Twitter this past Thursday. Tottenham Hotspur selling Clint Dempsey to Everton for a fee of around £8 million made sense for both player and the clubs involved. Seattle Sounders, though? The mere thought of it alone seemed like somebody's dream move that would only arise out of a FIFA 13 career mode set on "Amateur" level.
Yet here we are, alive and awake, and in a world where the US international and first-team starter is set to return to Major League Soccer and play for a side that wouldn't even be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today (afternoon of August 3). The anatomy of this deal isn't all that difficult to explain. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy set a fee for Dempsey that would ensure that Spurs would recover most, if not all, of the money they spent to bring the player to White Hart Lane last August, and Seattle, a team with a ton of cash to spend, was the first (and probably the only) club to meet Levy's demands.
By making the switch, Dempsey is setting himself up for far more football than he ever would have seen under Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas. AVB is building the squad of his choice, and Dempsey would have absolutely been relegated to some Europa League and cup fixtures regardless of where Gareth Bale is playing come September. Besides, who is to say that Dempsey won't again be wearing Tottenham Lilywhite in January 2014 via a brief loan?
US Soccer fans are going to hear and read a boatload of spin about this deal for days and weeks and probably even months to come. Dempsey will undoubtedly reference how much he enjoyed playing in Seattle while on recent national team duty, while at the same time gushing about the opportunity to play with USMNT teammate and friend Eddie Johnson on a weekly basis. MLS website writers who have narratives to tell will go on about what this means for the league as a whole and how Dempsey returning while still in his "prime" (a debatable topic) shows just how big MLS has gotten in a few short years. Some have even tossed around the name of David Beckham when referencing Dempsey joining Seattle.
Call me when Dempsey causes a riot by merely exiting a car.
Here's all we know for sure on the first weekend of August about Dempsey joining Seattle: A USMNT starter in the twilight of his best playing days has returned to MLS on a deal that reportedly cost double of what was his exit fee when he joined Fulham. We also know that something that has always been a not-so-secret wish of MLS execs is about to be a reality.
MLS is about to get its own America's Team.
Seattle, a club that averages over 40,000 per home game and a city referred to as "Soccer Town" in some circles, is about to break through the so-called "soccer bubble" and become truly mainstream. The amount of casual sports fans that will soon be rocking Dempsey Rave Green shirts is massive if social networking websites offer any indication of the future. Sure, the LA Galaxy still have Landon Donovan, but Dempsey isn't as polarizing to fans as is the star who will retire as this country's greatest footballer in history. Dempsey is, in short, the American soccer player everybody can get behind for a variety of reasons.
Dempsey is exactly what MLS needed in this post-Beckham age. The Sounders may now completely fill their giant NFL stadium for home games, and fans in Columbus, New York, Chicago and other US cities will flock to arenas to see and cheer for/cheer against the American. Seattle has immediately become the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Heat and New York Yankees. Some will love them. Some will hate them. All will watch.
The on-the-pitch aspect of the deal is undeniable. Seattle, despite sitting out of the top-five in the Western Conference standings as of the posting of this piece, is now "MLS Cup or bust" for at least the next couple of seasons. The Sounders failing to win a title between now and December 2014 could cost head coach Sigi Schmid his job. It could also leave those who remain unsold on MLS believing that Dempsey was yet another player who joined the US top-flight league for one final payday and some kickabouts before calling time on his career.
Dempsey to Seattle is undeniably big for the league. How big it is won't be known for years down the road. Will Dempsey be a one-off or will he represent the beginning of a new trend of American soccer stars finishing off their primes in MLS? Will Seattle be the new powerhouse of the league or just a collection of big names that can't win a trophy a la New York Red Bulls? We can't answer those questions today, but one thing seems certain:
Soccer fans in this country are in for one helluva ride.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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