Seattle Sounders announce USMNT captain Clint Dempsey as newest Designated Player

Two days after he was optimistically linked to a potential MLS move via a chance meeting with a fan at San Francisco International Airport, US national team captain Clint Dempsey has finally landed back in Major League Soccer. And yes, as rumored and reported, his final destination is Seattle.

Dempsey was unveiled as the newest member of the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night during a pregame ceremony at CenturyLink Field ahead of the team’s matchup against FC Dallas. His former club, the Premier League's Tottenham Hotspur, had announced earlier on Saturday that Dempsey had signed with MLS, ending his six-and-a-half year career in Europe

"This is a historic day for Sounders FC and our fans," said Sounders 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."

Dempsey, 30, is expected to join the Sounders’ workouts on Monday and will make his official debut with the club on Aug. 10 in Toronto, when the Sounders take on Toronto FC at BMO Field. His first home game will be Aug. 25, when the Sounders host the rival Portland Timbers.

"I am very excited about coming back to the MLS and thrilled to be joining Sounders FC," said Dempsey. "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."

“Major League Soccer is thrilled to have Clint Dempsey, arguably one of the best players the United States has ever produced, return to the league to play for the Sounders,”  MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “Clint could have played in any league throughout the world, and he chose MLS and the Sounders.  Our vision is to become one of the best leagues in the world, and we look forward to Clint being a part of that legacy.”

Per league rules, terms of the contract were not released, but Dempsey will occupy the team’s third Designated Player spot, joining midfielder Mauro Rosales and forward Obafemi Martins. The club removed the DP tag from midfielder Shalrie Joseph on Thursday.

Because Dempsey has signed as a Designated Player, he was not subject to the traditional allocation process for USMNT players. In addition, because Dempsey’s former MLS club – the New England Revolution – received compensation when Dempsey was transferred outside MLS in 2006, they do not retain a right of first refusal. 

Rumors of Dempsey’s MLS return first made waves on social media Thursday afternoon, when Fox Soccer’s Keith Costigan linked Dempsey to a potential Seattle move via Twitter. Hours later a fan tweeted out a picture of Dempsey at the airport in San Francisco, eventually leading Sounders fans to stake out Sea-Tac International Airport late Thursday night looking for the American star, to no avail.

Now that he’s on the ground in Seattle, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid can use him in a number of ways to help reenergize a stagnant season. Schmid could deploy Dempsey in a central role behind the front line pairing of Martins and Eddie Johnson, or he could play Dempsey in a wide left role with the same pairing up top.

Or he could swap the speedy Johnson to a spot on the left flank – where he’s played for the US national team – and pair Dempsey and Martins up top, giving the Sounders arguably the most internationally experienced front line in the league.

Either way it’s a win-win scenario for the Sounders, who reached the Western Conference Championship last year but have surprisingly been up and down to this point of the season. Even though they hold at least two games in hand against all of their conference opponents, they’ve won only one of their last four games and went into Saturday’s action outside the playoff picture in the West.

They should get a noticeable boost from Dempsey, who returns to MLS seven years after he left the Revolution for English Premier League side Fulham for a then-MLS-record transfer fee. After three seasons at Gillette Stadium, during which time he scored 25 goals and led the club to two MLS Cup finals, he spent five seasons making his name on the international soccer scene with the Cottagers. He helped spark the club’s first-ever appearance in the Europa League final in May 2010 and became one of the most reliable goalscorers in the Premier League.

By December 2011, he was the most prolific American goalscorer in the Premier League – passing former Cottagers teammate Brian McBride – and he set Fulham’s single-season goalscoring record five months later en route to finishing fourth in the voting for the FWA’s Footballer of the Year, honoring the best players in the Premier League.

With his intentions set on appearing in the UEFA Champions League, he leveraged his success at Fulham into a transfer and a contract with Tottenham in August 2012 that made him the highest-paid American player of all-time. He scored seven goals in 22 league appearances for Tottenham last season, but the club finished one point short of the EPL’s fourth spot, and failed to qualify for Champions League.

A regular with the US national team since 2004, Dempsey is currently one game shy of his historic 100th cap, and he’ll likely earn that when the US return to CONCACAF World Cup qualifying play on Sept. 14 in Costa Rica. Dempsey has five goals and an assist in eight games with the USMNT this year, including two in a 4-3 win over Germany in June that kick-started the team’s current 11-match winning streak.

Dempsey is the third US national team member to return MLS during the current transfer window, joining longtime US captain Carlos Bocanegra (Chivas USA) and Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes).