TUKWILA, Wash. – It was the end of an era for the Seattle Sounders at their Wednesday training session at Starfire Sports Complex, on the heels of the news that star forward and US national team legend Clint Dempsey had officially announced his retirement from professional soccer.
The 35-year-old leaves the sport as arguably the greatest pure goalscorer the United States has ever produced, and finished tied with Fredy Montero for the Sounders’ all-time lead in MLS regular season goals with 47. Many of those came during a stretch from 2013-15 where Dempsey teamed up with Obafemi Martins to make up one of the most dynamic attacking duos in MLS history.
On Wednesday, Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer discussed the overall impact of Dempsey’s arrival to Seattle following his blockbuster move from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 – a moment Hanauer said will go down as one of the league’s most historically significant signings.
“It was a big moment in the history of Major League Soccer, Clint coming back from the Premier League, in his prime,” Hanauer said. “All of these big moments add to the growth of the game: David Beckham coming to MLS, a guy like Nico Lodeiro choosing to leave Boca [Juniors] to come to [Seattle]. But Clint’s status as arguably the best player in US soccer history certainly has a high place in that pyramid of building for the next generation of Major League Soccer.
“For me, the results are there: A pile of trophies, a pile of wins.”
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan grew up watching Dempsey at the height of his dominance, when he scored 50 goals with English club Fulham over a five-season stint from 2007-2012.
Roldan said watching his future teammate go to Europe and excel gave hope to his generation that it’s possible to reach those heights, citing Dempsey’s famously humble beginnings in Nacogdoches, Texas where his parents would have to drive him three hours just to train with his club team as a boy.
“It’s really difficult to put into words what he’s done for the sport in the United States,” Roldan said. “He is the reason why a lot of Americans are playing this sport. He’s been fantastic for the United States and for the culture and soccer in general.
“But as a kid growing up, when you see an American playing on the biggest stage, you think, ‘Well, it’s possible for anybody,’” he continued. “As long as you put your mind to it, work extremely hard and stay determined, it is possible to reach that level. Clint came from Nacogdoches. He and his parents did everything possible to make his career happen. As a player growing up in that time, you always wanted to be like Clint, you always wanted to be a guy that followed his career and hopefully played alongside him one day.”
The Sounders plan on honoring Dempsey in a pregame ceremony before their match against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on Saturday (4 pm ET | UniMás, Twitter — Full TV & Streaming Info). It will be a surreal scene as Dempsey is given his final send-off, but one Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said he hopes will act as a final chance for Seattle fans to appreciate his legacy.
“In some ways, it’s a sad day because we won’t be able to see him play [anymore],” Schmetzer said. “But at the same time, you can use this day as a celebration for some of the great things he’s accomplished in his career. And that’s the way I’m choosing to look at it.”
As for what comes next for Dempsey, Hanauer said the club is open to having him “stay part of the family” in some capacity. Until then, the Sounders’ owner said he expects Dempsey to get some well-deserved time to pursue his two favorite non-soccer pastimes.
“Going fishing, going hunting,” Hanauer said. “That’s probably near the top of his list right now.”