Sports

MLS: Sounders FC sign star Clint Dempsey to a monumental contract

The Seattle Sounders FC announced the signing of United States captain Clint Dempsey Saturday before their 3-0 win over FC Dallas.  - Courtesy Soundersfc.com
The Seattle Sounders FC announced the signing of United States captain Clint Dempsey Saturday before their 3-0 win over FC Dallas.
— image credit: Courtesy Soundersfc.com

People around the Seattle area have always thought that they were the center of the soccer world in America. The unbelievable fan support the Sounders FC have received in Major League Soccer (MLS) over the last several years has further cemented that notion.

With the events of last weekend, there is no doubting Seattle is now Soccer City USA. Sounders FC made an earthquake-level shake up of the MLS landscape Saturday when they announced they had inked American superstar Clint Dempsey to a contract.

“This is a historic day for Sounders FC and our fans,” said Majority Owner Joe Roth. “Clint is a world-class soccer player who can take this club to a higher level. We have been consistent in our message to the fans that we will spare no expense to win trophies.”

The signing of Dempsey, the undisputed best player in the United States, to a massive four-year, $32 million contract instantly makes Seattle not only a contender for the MLS Cup, but the favorite. The ownership of the Sounders also had to pay London's Tottenham Hotspur, of the English Premier League, a transfer fee of $9 million to get Dempsey.

Dempsey, 30, is the captain of the U.S. National Team and has been named the U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year three times, including the past two years. A seven-year veteran of the English Premier League, Dempsey holds the record for most goals (57) by an American in the EPL.

“I am very excited about coming back to the MLS and thrilled to be joining Sounders FC,” said Dempsey, who played three seasons with the New England Revolution from 2004-06. “Having recently played in Seattle with the National Team, I experienced the incredible atmosphere and the passion from the supporters first-hand. It’s going to be an honor to represent the fans in Seattle.”

Dempsey ranks second all-time with 35 goals for the U.S. National Team. He ranks ninth with 12 assists and 13th with 99 caps, and became the second player in U.S. Soccer history to score in consecutive World Cups with the equalizer against England on June 12, 2010. He has scored five goals in eight starts for the U.S. in 2013, and has led the team in goals the past two years.

“In doing something of this magnitude we had to make sure we had the right player. Clint Dempsey fits that mold,” said Owner and General Manager Adrian Hanauer. “Clint is a proven winner, a leader and a competitor who we believe will raise the bar for this organization on and off the field.”

The signing of Dempsey is a major coup for MLS. Dempsey was a very sought-after commodity in Europe and playing for a team, Tottenham, who was fighting for a coveted berth in the UEFA Champions League. Dempsey finished with 12 goals last season and had 24 a year before for fellow EPL member, Fulham.

"This signing ranks right at the very top," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "We have been going through a process that started almost 10 years ago to try and find the players that could really make a statement about our league and our plan to be a legitimate player on the global stage. That really started with Landon Donovan. MLS isn't what it is today if Landon hadn't spent a majority of his career here. Then it kicked to a higher gear with David Beckham, which was a statement that MLS was serious about having well-known international players who'd perform for us on and off the field."

The passion of the Seattle fan base was on full display when rumors of Dempsey possibly leaving Tottenham began making the rounds on Thursday night. As with everything these days, there was even a Twitter hashtag trending — #DempseyWatch.

There were even grown men and women who went to Sea-Tac International Airport hoping to get a glimpse at Dempsey arriving in town. According to Sports Illustrated, when United Airlines flight 1621 arrived at 11:13 p.m. from San Francisco, the passengers all came through the terminal except Dempsey, who was re-routed through a different door.

"We have really good contacts at the airport, so we were able to sneak him off the flight and down onto the tarmac into a van," Sounders FC General Manager Adrian Hanauer told SI.com with a laugh. "Then he went back around to a baggage claim area that wasn't for his flight. He jumped in my car. We picked him up and then away we went."

“Now the whole world knows,” said fellow U.S. Men's National Teammate Eddie Johnson. “What a great contribution to our team and ... to this league. You know every little kid in America wants to be like Clint.”

“It makes you feel like it’s proper, it’s a real sport — you know? And that’s the passion that you need,” said midfielder Brad Evans. “It probably wasn’t there even five or six years ago. I think before our team came along, there wasn’t anything like that. People weren’t staking out at airports to see their favorite players coming in, and that just says a lot to the game and how much it’s grown.”

It's still up in air what Dempsey's move to the Sounders will mean for Thomas Jefferson High School graduate Lamar Neagle. The midfielder has been a consistent starter for Seattle and has five goals and three assists. Neagle has played in 16 matches this season.

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