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The changing identity of … Seattle Sounders FC

Aug 4, 2013, 5:29 PM EDT

Clint Dempsey AP

The public face of Clint Dempsey’s transfer saga unfolded so quickly, it may take some time to come to grips with the implications. It’s difficult to imagine a bigger, more realistic transfer target coming to Major League Soccer, and four days ago, you couldn’t even consider Dempsey realistic. After Adrian Hanauer’s coup, we’ll have to get used to expanding our imaginations.

Once we calibrate, there’ll be a whole new way of seeing the Sounders. Instead of this crowd-drawing juggernaut aspiring to see its competitive goals match off-field success, a new perception will see Seattle as keepers of a war chest capable of eclipsing any in Major League Soccer. Like it or not, that’s often how fans characterize teams. The LA Galaxy are big-spending haves. The New York Red Bulls are big-spending haves. Now, Seattle Sounders are part of that axis of evil.

As Sounders supporters might chant, “no one likes us, we don’t care,” an irreverence that meets a new reality after Saturday truly made them the envy of Major League Soccer. Whether you like Dempsey as a player, whether you like the idea of committing such a large sum to one talent, Seattle did it. They became the first team to reach into Europe and pay a significant fee for a indisputably desirable target. Is Dempsey huge, worldwide headlines big? No, but these are exactly the type of acquisitions MLS fans have wanted since Day 0.

[MORE: The changing identity of ... Major League Soccer]

For much of MLS’s history, those expectations have had to be tempered. Not so in Seattle. Now, those consistent 38,000-plus crowds have a new context. Now the backing of people like Joe Roth, Paul Allen, and Drew Carey has potential as well as prestige. For the first time, Seattle has shown hints of realizing the potential written in their DNA. They can indeed be Galaxy north.

With potential becomes expectation. Even though they currently sit in seventh, missing the playoffs is not an option. Once there, the type of collapses Seattle’s recently suffered in Sandy and Carson won’t be acceptable. Though sports history is littered with talented teams that lost for reasonable reasons, the Sounders will be expected to perform to a reasonable, high, championship-level. If they don’t succeed in bringing a title, they better force another team to o something exception.

For a fanbase that defined its team by trophies based on U.S. Open Cup success, silverware will be a priority, especially since the huge commitment of that fan base is what made this move financially possible. More U.S. Open Cups, please, but also Supporters Shields, MLS Cups, and start really competing for CONCACAF Champions League. If not now, at least acknowledge the club is now on that road. Seattle’s scope changed the second Dempsey unzipped his grey hoody.

Much of Major League Soccer, still toiling on the edge of profitability, hamstrung by the realities of a league still in its adolescence, won’t be happy about that. Reasonably (and admittedly), there’ll be envy. That, however, is the new identity of the Sounders, which means if MLS is truly in an adolescence, Seattle’s become the kid drives its BMW to high school, seamlessly aces all the AP classes, and dates the girl you want to ask to prom. And you’re not sure whether you hate them or want to be them.

These are your new Seattle Sounders.

  1. hildezero - Aug 4, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    WOW! Great article, Richard. As a US Soccer fan, I really wish Deuce the best at Seattle.

  2. timclegg9 - Aug 4, 2013 at 6:28 PM

    Clint’s a smart guy. Whatever benefit he gains in preparing for Brazil, he’s done way more for MLS with this move than Beckham did. Well, at least for this American fan, who lives in Ontario, Canada. I will now be doing the hitherto unthinkable: buying a ticket to BMO field to watch the woeful TFC take on Seattle next time they play. Thanks, Clint, for saving me the cost of a trip to London to watch you ride the bench!

    • gangletron - Aug 4, 2013 at 9:54 PM

      FYI next time they play at BMO Field would be Saturday, Dempsey’s first game.

  3. hildezero - Aug 4, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    Lol. Nice!

  4. gambitp - Aug 4, 2013 at 7:32 PM

    As a Dynamo fan, I hate this move. As a US fan and a Dempsey fan, I think it is cool. Can Bob McNair buy the Dynamo?

    • gambitp - Aug 4, 2013 at 7:33 PM

      Oh and I seriously hope this helps Seattle make some real noise in the Concacaf Champions League.

      • reformed2012 - Aug 4, 2013 at 9:04 PM

        Well he ask for Champions League football, he will get to play some Champions League football. May be even have a shot at FIFA Club World Cup.

      • donjuego - Aug 5, 2013 at 8:01 PM

        SSFC will have to get to the CCL first. Really — folks are hugely over-estimating how much one good finisher will add to the ability of a team to win games.

  5. rphillish - Aug 4, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    No ill will towards the Sounders here. A big move like this from one team is always good for the rest of the league.

  6. el timo - Aug 4, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    well, hot diggity dawg! Saturday night in Toronto, baby! supercalafragilisticexpinacgodoches!

  7. trip253 - Aug 4, 2013 at 7:48 PM

    As a Sounders season ticket holder, I am still working at coming to terms with the acquisition of Clint Dempsey. The Sounders fan in me is giddy beyond belief that this actually happened, while the rational side of me, who never considered this to be a possibility, is suffering from whiplash and wondering what this implies for the future of my team and MLS in general.

    I suspect that the biggest reason for the slow acceptance is that sport fans growing up in the Seattle area have never associated any of our local teams here as as being identified as one of the “haves”. The “haves” teams from our perspective have always been from New York, Los Angeles or Boston (Red Sox). Telling us that the Sounders are now being placed in the same level of spending power and influence, as one of those “have” teams, is just a bit on the surreal side of things.

    I expect that I eventually will get used to the idea, it just may take a bit of time.

    • talgrath - Aug 4, 2013 at 10:17 PM

      Kind of a weird feeling, isn’t it?

  8. buckyball77 - Aug 4, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    With Dempsey, Seattle did what is good for Seattle, not MLS. They alone among teams have both the sheer numbers of fans in seats and a reasonable sized media market to afford this move. And Dempsey was offered a great financial and playing deal, as compared to staying on as third or fourth option at Spurs.

    But whether the league benefits? Will we really start seeing players in the 24-29 age bracket come from Europe or South America after this to play in MLS as DP’s? Still unlikely because of the salary cap. I would argue that Dempsey has reached his peak and that Seattle is paying for an impact player who will fade (they hope) very slowly over several years.

    No doubt, next year the other teams will get an attendance bump when the Sounders come to town. But, were other teams such as NE, DC or Columbus just waiting for someone like Seattle to go first before they bet their franchise on one really expensive player?

    • reformed2012 - Aug 4, 2013 at 9:05 PM

      We will see which MLS team will meet the buyout clause of Leo Messi.

  9. bobinkc - Aug 4, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    I find it interesting that MLS mouths platitudes about being an importer of soccer talent while, in actuality, any player who becomes worth a hoot is grist for the European leagues and leaves his MLS team in the dust. Then MLS whines about becoming a dumping ground for aging European players who want to finish off their careers by making DP money over here instead of being relegated to the bench over there.

    Then there are the school systems that several MLS teams are trying to develop; why bother when a player that a team has brought up through the system becomes an MLS starter and then heads off to Europe to play for more money, albeit while riding the bench a lot.

    MLS is already a stopover for seasoning for non-US players who are looking to move to Europe as soon as they can. Can anybody else spell FARM TEAM LEAUGE? (And don’t even start with the sour grapes for SKC losing Espinoza and almost losing Kemara; I just don’t even want to hear about it.)

    I guess I am looking at from Richard’s point of view about the number of MLS teams that are still heavily subsidized by their owners and how this heavy duty purchasing of instant talent is going to sit with hometown season ticket holders who can look forward to having their teams relegated to the bottom half of each division in perpetuity. If you want to drive a major spike in the coffin of MLS, go ahead and continue to allow DPs and $3mm+ annual salaries. Then you have someone pop up as the George Steinbrenner of MLS and won’t that just make everyone’s day!

    • reformed2012 - Aug 4, 2013 at 9:09 PM

      There will be a point where the salary cap in MLS will be abolished.

    • cougkeeper - Aug 4, 2013 at 9:44 PM

      FAM TAM LAG…..guess not. Make up your mind bobinkc. Do you want a bunch of washed up Europeans here or do you want some players in their prime. And if Seattle didn’t do this, do you like the idea of Joe Roth et al sitting on sack of money without making any impact on the league. We average almost twice the attendance of the next closest team, we got to do something. BTW, who’s George Steinbrenner?

    • adiaz9201 - Aug 5, 2013 at 8:33 AM

      this was a great move not just for the sounders, but for MLS and this will attract European players to come here in the future, salary cap is important to have parity in the league, look at the NFL how the cap has maintain the league even, in the NFL is all about the draft, something that MLS seriously has to consider. In fact i think the cap has made this league so popular and strong, Europeans should have one too.

    • tdilivo - Aug 6, 2013 at 4:23 PM

      “Can anybody else spell FARM TEAM LEAUGE”

      Well . . . no, never mind, it’s just too easy

  10. hildezero - Aug 5, 2013 at 12:45 AM

    Lol. Yes it is talgrath, yes it is…

  11. tdilivo - Aug 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    “you’re not sure whether you hate them or want to be them”

    so true, so true

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