SEATTLE — Any fan with an Internet connection should have already been well aware that the Seattle Sounders had signed Clint Dempsey, but that didn’t seem to dampen the mood of his official unveiling before Saturday’s game.
With his “Don’t Tread on Me” video playing in the background, the Sounders’ newest Designated Player was greeted by an ovation as loud as any produced by the CenturyLink Field crowd.
The reverberations will likely be felt well outside of Seattle.
While there is certainly a lively debate over just how heavily any top European team pursued Dempsey, this has to be seen as one of the biggest signings in MLS history. Dempsey returns to the league where he got his start having scored more goals in the English Premier League than any other American and still the captain of the United States national team. Never before has an American so close to the peak of his game come to MLS from a foreign league.
The mere idea that this could happen caught even the Sounders players by surprise.
Dempsey's first interview as a Sounder
“It was one of those things you think would never happen where it’s almost a joke when you first hear it,” Sounders midfielder Brad Evans said. “You hear the rumblings, you hear about people going to Sea-Tac [airport] and hanging out. It’s great for the game, great for MLS. Obviously, I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
No one seems to be looking forward to that more than Eddie Johnson, who will be reunited with one of his best friends in the game. Johnson and Dempsey became fast friends when both were at Fulham and continued that relationship with the US national team.
Although Johnson said he played no part in recruiting Dempsey, he was clearly happy to have him as a teammate again.
“It was overwhelming,” Johnson said about finding out the news. “I look around the room and there are a lot of young guys who idolize him and who would have loved to have an opportunity to play with him and now it becomes a reality. I’m just happy to play alongside him again. What a great job by the front office and great job by MLS.”
For all the off-field implications, what makes the move even more interesting is that Dempsey will join an attacking core that already has plenty of talent.
Playing like they did on Saturday, a 3-0 win over FC Dallas, it almost seems unfair to add a player of Dempsey’s caliber. Johnson and Obafemi Martins each scored goals while Evans added a goal and an assist. The defense kept FC Dallas from putting a single shot on target and the Sounders suddenly look like a team that could not only challenge for a MLS Cup, but for the Supporters’ Shield.
The expectation seems to be that Dempsey will be able to bolster the attack fairly seamlessly, even it’s not immediately apparent how he’ll be deployed. With Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid saying Dempsey will likely make his debut on Saturday against Toronto FC, more of this should come into focus soon.
For now, there’s clearly a buzz about what the future may hold.
“Dempsey’s a good player so he’s going to be good for me and Eddie and Lamar [Neagle] as well and the other players because we need good players on the team,” said Martins, who is one of the few players in MLS whose career resume compares favorably to Dempsey’s. “He’s welcome and I hope he’s going to do well here.”