Dempsey to Seattle is a Win/Win/Win

Basle-v-Tottenham-Clint-Dempsey-second-goal2_2928145-1The rumors that American international Clint Dempsey would return to the United States and MLS were met with staunch skepticism, until such rumors proved to be factual. The former Fulham FC and Tottenham midfielder has transferred to the Seattle Sounders, with Spurs accepting a fee believed to be in the range of 9,000,000 pounds.

While some may scoff at Dempsey’s decision to forsake a popular club in the world’s most popular domestic league to “step down” to play in the MLS (while still in the prime segment of his career), the move is certainly a win for the player and his family, MLS and the Sounders club as well as a plus for the American national team moving ahead to the 2014 World Cup.
Dempsey was born 30 years ago in the east Texas town of Nacogdoches. Despite a population of only 32,000, the small Texas town has produced is share of luminaries, including legendary former NFL coach Bum Phillips, the Eagles’ Don Henley, current S.F. Giants 1st baseman Brandon Belt and several other NFL and MLB players. Dempsey is among those who’ve taken the big step forward from smalltown talent to bigtime achievement.

A standout soccer player as a young man, Dempsey played college soccer at Furman University before being drafted in 2004 by the New England Revolution. He helped the Revs to two consecutive MLS Super Cup finals in 2005-6 and made the American 2006 World Cup roster before signing with London’s Fulham club, where he followed the successful lead of fellow American Brian McBride and also became a Fulham legend with his relegation-saving goal against Liverpool in his first season at FFC. The transplanted Texan spent seven years with the club, scoring 60 goals in all competitions, including a March, 2010 golazzo in Europa League play against iconic Juventus that staved off elimination for the Cottagers. He knocked in 23 goals in 46 matches for FFC in 2011/2012 before demanding a transfer. The process was arduous, but Dempsey finally got his wish and moved to Spurs for a reported 6 million pound fee. Last season with Spurs he scored 12 times in all competitions. But regular play was no guarantee under Spurs boss AndrĂ© Villas Boas, as although Dempsey featured in 43 Spurs games, he only started 22 of Tottenham’s 38 EPL fixtures.

Dempsey Wins

By moving to the Sounders, Dempsey completes his European sojourn having proven that he can be successful at the top levels of world football, both in league play and in European competition. His 72 goals during his seven seasons in England are a tangible mark of his expanded skills, his determination and his ruggedness, as the only time he featured in less than 40 games a season was his first, when he transferred to Fulham halfway through their season. He also was twice named FFC player of the year.

For himself and his family, speculation is that Dempsey will receive a four-year contract with an annual salary in the range of $9,000,000. That’s taking care of business. Moreover, Dempsey and his wife, Bethany, have three young children. Although she is from North Carolina and he’s from Texas, Dempsey’s family will still be much closer to his parent’s and in-laws by being back in the States. For a man whose major inspiration for his soccer achievements was the death of his older teenaged sister, Jennifer, when he was just 12 years old, being closer to family has to be a major motivation in Dempsey’s return to the U.S.

In signing with the Sounders, Dempsey will enjoy the experience of playing for a very competitive club with America’s largest fanbase. The Sounders name and tradition goes back forty years, with soccer not taking a backseat to other professional sports teams in the Emerald City media. With three recent US Open Cup championships under their belt, wins over Mexican clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League and big rivalries with the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, the Sounders have already established their credentials and are currently contending for a MLS playoff berth. Dempsey will be the team’s star, but he’ll also have as teammates players such as Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans and Marcus Hahnemann who have experienced the demands of playing for both club and country.

Win for MLS

The signing of Dempsey by an MLS team is a coup. In the past, European and South American stars signed by MLS clubs have been further along the age spectrum, not in their prime. But as Dempsey remarked at halftime of the Sounders’ Saturday night match with FC Dallas, the Sounders “moved mountains” to make the transfer work, and Dempsey’s excitement at playing in Seattle while still in command of his skillset was palpable, as was that of the Seattle fans Saturday night at Century Link Field for Dempsey’s introduction, which provoked thoughts of the old adage, “love at first sight.”

Moreover, with the retirement of David Beckham, the departure of international stars such as the Chicago Fire’s CuauhtĂ©moc Blanco, the Crew’s Guillermo Barros Schelotto and the NY Red Bull’s Rafa Marquez, along with the injury-shortened careers of German internationals Torsten Frings and Arne Friedrich, MLS needed a new star. Dempsey’s return to the league where he got his start can only help boost MLS TV ratings and attendance at Sounders’ matches both home and away. And as far as MLS public relations goes, is it a coincidence that Dempsey’s signing overshadowed the ballyhooed return to competition of the NASL’s New York Cosmos, a team spurned by Garber and company? I dunno, but if so, well-played, MLS.

Win for the USMNT

Some have argued that Dempsey’s return to the admittedly inferior MLS will lessen the skills that Dempsey brought to the American national team. Dempsey has already, by age 30, earned 95 USMNT caps and scored 35 international goals.

But playing in a lesser league does not equal playing in a league that doesn’t have quality and competition. At 30, Dempsey had achieved most of what he could conceivably achieve in the EPL — the truth is, the likelihood of Dempsey being a regularly on a champion side in any of the top leagues in Europe at this point in his career, or earning extended Champions League play, was small. Dempsey could have easily stayed at Spurs, but the offseason addition of attackers by Villas-Boas meant a lessened role for the veteran midfielder, and Spurs won’t be playing Champions League in the upcoming season, having fallen just short of the mark at last season’s end.

Perhaps Dempsey learned from the cautionary tale of fellow American international DaMarcus Beasley. A year older than the Texan, Beasley had found success in Europe, though of a lesser degree than Dempsey. After beginning his professional career in MLS with the Chicago Fire, Beasley featured on clubs such as PSV Eindhoven, Manchester City, Rangers and Hannover. By the time he reached the German club, however, his career was spiraling downward, and Beasley appeared only four times for the 96ers in a season where they achieved Europa League football.

Signing with Mexican club Puebla the next summer, Beasley was re-vitalized, earning regular playing time in a league that features such legendary teams as Club America and Chivas de Guadalajara. Beasley’s fitness and confidence were renewed, The bounceback in Beasley’s career since making the move back to North America makes Beasley just about a lock to be part of the US squad for Brazil in 2014 as he assumed a leadership role with the U.S. in their successful Gold Cup tournament. A similar narrative applies to Dempsey’s new Sounders teammate Johnson, who got himself back onto the US national team by returning to MLS. Thirty-one year-old American international Clarence Goodson, along with longtime American captain Carlos Bocanegra, have also returned to MLS from Europe this summer.

Furthermore, with Dempsey not having to make cross-Atlantic trips, he will be more easily available for the national team, as players based in Europe tend to miss national team callups due to the travel involved and the needs of their club teams. Although Klinsmann is on record for calling on his national team players to strive to play at the highest level possible, Klinsmann has on the other hand called up players such as Terrence Boyd, who had never played a senior team match for Borussia Dortmund and Michael Parkhurst, who only featured in a few matches for FC Augsburg after signing with the team last winter.

There will be those who will continue to say that Dempsey shouldn’t have come home at this time in his career. With the Texan still in training with Spurs before the move, he will be facing upcoming MLS opponents already in mid-season form. If he starts slowly in Seattle, or fails to score in his next international matches, those detractors will be crowing about how right they were and how wrong Dempsey was. But when all is said and done, Dempsey did the right thing for his career and family. Isn’t that the American way?

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About the author: Gerry Wittmann




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