SEATTLE — In the arms race that is MLS talent acquisition, the LA Galaxy have always been seen as the team leading the way. Especially in recent years when they have boasted lineups featuring the likes of Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane, the Galaxy have never brought a knife to a gun fight.
With their acquisition of Clint Dempsey, the Seattle Sounders have acquired their own big gun, designed to bring home the franchise's first MLS Cup.
"I think on paper you would have to say that that is the case," Sounders GM and part owner Adrian Hanauer said Monday following the formal press conference introducing Dempsey to local media. "Obviously Clint, Oba [Martins], Mauro [Rosales], Shalrie [Joseph], we have Eddie [Johnson], we definitely have some pretty good weaponry at this point -- your word -- and the idea was that we want to win championships, and we don't like getting beat, by the Galaxy or anybody, and so hopefully this helps us get over the hump."
Dempsey seems more than happy to shoulder that burden, which is why he said it was important for him to return to MLS now as opposed to in a few years.
“You can't help the growth of the game if you don't perform,” Dempsey said. “I understand there's a lot of pressure on me to succeed. There's a lot of expectations that others have on me, but also the expectations I put on myself.
“When I decided to come back to this league I wanted to make an impact. I want to do a good job. I don't want to come and be passed it and not be able to make a difference in games. I want to win things. I'm still going to work as hard as ever to make sure my game is at the highest level possible and I'm doing everything I can to help the team win.”
As talented as the Sounders have been throughout the years, it was only as recently as last offseason that Hanauer and head coach Sigi Schmid were alluding to the team's shortcomings in terms of top-level talent.
The discrepancy was especially apparent in the Sounders' 3-0 loss to the Galaxy in the opening leg of last year's Western Conference Championship. Even though Seattle managed to score a couple of goals in the return leg before ultimately falling 4-2 on aggregate, closing that gap was the stated goal of the offseason.
Their first move along those lines was signing Martins, a player who was in the midst of a season in which he was leading La Liga's Levante in scoring.
It took them until midseason, but they hope Dempsey will be the other half of their title-winning code.
"It helps," Schmid said. "Being able to make critical decisions, at crucial moments in the game is something you need. Soccer is not a sport where you can call a timeout and say, 'Here's the play we're going to run. Relax. Let's take the air out of the balloon a little bit.'
"It's a players' game and you need players on the field who can make really good decisions at really key moments."
Dempsey would certainly seem to be that kind of player. Like Keane, he is the captain of his national team, having scored 35 goals in 99 caps for the US. He's also the most accomplished American goalscorer in English Premier League history, scoring 57 goals in 213 league appearances at Fulham and Tottenham.
"You can talk about doing well, but until you experience some success you don't become confident," Schmid said. "You look at a Robbie Keane, he's had success in difficult situations. And you look at Clint and he's had success in difficult situations.
"You look at the comeback [Fulham] had in the Europa League game where chipped the goalkeeper. That's scoring a big goal in a big game at a critical moment. When you do things like that, you can rely on that again. When you look at the goals he scored for Tottenham, he scored against Man. United away and at home. That's scoring big goals in big games in big situations and that gives you confidence. And the more confidence you gain means the next time you'll probably react in a good manner."
Although the talent gap at the top of MLS may now be closed, Schmid was reluctant to suddenly declare the Sounders MLS Cup favorites. Dempsey has yet to even participate in a full practice with his new team, let alone play with them, and there's always a bit of luck and good fortune required to win in the playoffs.
But he also acknowledged that any shortcomings won't be for a lack of firepower.
"It definitely makes it a little bit easier to be fortunate when you have quality players like that," Schmid said. "Is the pressure a little bit higher? From the outside it might be. But for me the pressure on me is that we always want to do the best possible."
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