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Is Clint Dempsey’s arrival the biggest shock in MLS history?

Aug 6, 2013, 11:53 AM EDT

Clint Dempsey

We’ve had the weekend and a manic Monday to contemplate all of this.

One more time: Clint Dempsey is a Seattle Sounders player.

That sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

But his arrival has thrown up so many questions since it happened, that we haven’t really had time to sit back and figure out what this all means.

Transfer fee transparency, LA and Toronto, multiple press conferences and other MLS clubs egos aside, is signing Dempsey the biggest shock in the league’s 18-year history?

It has to be. Even the arrival of David Beckham and Thierry Henry didn’t surprise us this much.

(MORE: How Dempsey’s deal came together, new details on Deuce’s deal with Seattle)

What makes it more shocking is that the move comes after Jurgen Klinsmann has repeatedly said he wants his best players to play in Europe and jokingly called Dempsey out for not playing in the UEFA Champions League. Now he finds the USMNT captain as the new face of MLS.

That’s what Deuce is. Forget Henry or Landon Donovan as the player that epitomizes MLS. Dempsey is now your man.

To have that sprung upon us in the past few days has been almost too much to handle for US fans and media outlets. When we confirmed the story on Friday evening after many, many discussions behind the scenes, trying to get to the bottom of this transfer took a while.

The initial question on the mind of everyone was about whether or not this was a good or bad move for Clint.

I think we saw from yesterday’s press conference that this move was very much about his young family. We are talking about a player who left the USA in his early 20s to compete in one of Europe’s top leagues. He has now returned to the USA and is ready to live in his homeland once again. He’s happy to be back in MLS. Most people are happy to have him back.

(MORE: The Dempsey Route: Allocation is focus, but another “rule change” a bigger issue for MLS)

But the fact Deuce actually made it back surprises me.

Obviously Adrian Hanauer and Joe Roth were working hard behind the scenes for a few weeks to get this all in place, from about July 20. But to have Dempsey agree to all this really surprised me. The likes of Alexi Lalas, John Harkes and Tab Ramos gave up their careers in Europe to help build and grow MLS in 1996. Is Dempsey doing the same to take MLS to the next level? Well, he’s getting paid a handsome sum of money to do it, so let’s not make him out to be some kind of sacrificial lamb.

However, does the transfer show a lack of ambition or drive from Deuce?

Following yesterday’s press conference where Dempsey spoke alongside Hanauer and Sigi Schmid, there was much talk of how Seattle have been ambitiously chasing Dempsey’s signature since 2010. If the Sounders would have pulled that off then, it would have been a huge coup. But now it’s arguably bigger.

(MORE: MLS gets cloudier, not transparent, with Dempsey’s Sounders deal)

Ahead of the World Cup in 2014, Dempsey will be playing his soccer in MLS. He is still in the late prime of his career and was expected to play in Europe for at least another two or three seasons. At least. His capture signifies the direction in which the league is going: up.

When Beckham, Henry, Robbie Keane or any of the other big name players have arrived in MLS during recent seasons, there’s been euphoria and excitement. But nothing quite like the return of Deuce.

Shocking. Sensational. Fantastic. Any superlative you want doesn’t do the rigmarole of #DempseyWatch justice. Seeing this all unfold was a unique experience, US soccer fans may never see their national team captain prefer MLS over the Premier League again.

The shock of Dempsey’s arrival still hasn’t properly dissipated. Give it time. Deuce wearing Rave Green this Saturday in Toronto will properly announce, once and for all, that the biggest transfer shock in the league’s history has indeed happened.

In case you’re struggling to wrap your head around it all, below is Dempsey’s introductory press conference from yesterday in full. Seeing is believing.

  1. charliej11 - Aug 6, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    It shows the Drive of Deuce. Most would have settled in at a loser EPL team and faded into nothingness for another 5-7 years….losing their whole careers.

    He wants to win. He is able to accomplish this if he works hard and plays at a very high level. If not, he will have his butt handed to him, like many before him.

    As far as the face of MLS ? Give me a break, Donovan is the face of MLS. He has won the last two MLS Cups. That is the way it works in the US…this isn’t the Eurocrap league. Bale is the face of England as he is the highest transfer rumor. Or some guy with a great looking WAG.

    IF, IF he wins it all, then he WILL be the face of MLS. IF he wins, if he loses or stinks, no one, absolutely no one will care. OK, I will but I have been a Sounder’s fan longer than he has been alive…..

  2. joeyt360 - Aug 6, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    Hard to rate Beckham shock vs Dempsey shock. The latter, the whole thing took like 48 hours, in Beckham’s case, the shock was parceled out over a longer period of time.

  3. el timo - Aug 6, 2013 at 8:45 PM

    I haven’t read a word of commentary on Dempsey’s move to Seattle that doesn’t help prove what a smart play it was. Hey, when you’re old and slow, you gotta be smart, eh? I just dropped $200 to
    see the Deuce this Saturday in Toronto. Now THAT’s entertainment!

  4. lyleoross - Aug 7, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    In what possible way can we say “Clint Dempsey is a Seattle Sounders player” doesn’t that sound good?

    To have such a small view on world soccer is sort of remarkable. I like MLS, and I even want it to succeed, but the mark of success for us has to be world play.

    The notion that Dempsey is going to lift U.S. soccer by playing in the MLS denotes a lack of understanding as to why MLS has grown so much in the last three years. It’s a little bit like the leadership in MLS feeling that Beckham grew the league in some magic way, when there is no data or evidence to support that notion.

    The biggest thing that has helped with the growth of MLS in the last three years, is our burgeoning immigrant population. Yep, those guys like the sport, and go to games, and support the teams. When I see a Dynamo sticker here in Houston, it is typically on a work truck. The base at games is immigrant, and those immigrants were there from the start. Pretending like it was something else is rude at best. To be clear, the monied interests have been selling “soccer” to U.S. audiences for forty years. Beckham, isn’t the first international star to come here with the idea that this big name is going to convince Americans to watch, yet somehow he succeeded? BS. He didn’t do it any more than Clint will. Check out those US international games (say the Gold Cup for example), look who’s in the audience, ask yourself, why when we play Mexico, or Honduras, or any Central American country, why do I see as many or more of their jerseys in the stands as ours? Hmmmmm.

    Now, there is a growing support in the non-immigrant population, and by my measure, it started with the last world cup. Whether it was marketing, or a combination of immigrants watching and supporting the world cup and non-immigrants discovering that the sport is awesome, there was a huge boom in viewership and participation after the cup. Local youth clubs in Houston saw a two to three fold increase in participation in the season directly following the event. And they weren’t watching Beckham and the MLS, they were watching the international game. The proof is in the amount of effort that ESPN and others have put into getting international games on line and on TV. Clearly, they see a market and are recognizing it.

    Back to Clint, there is a growing connection to the EPL and LIGA in the U.S. People understand that those two leagues drive the sport (hopefully they will wake up and realize Bundesliga, Serie etc. are as important). That audience takes pride in the fact that Americans are increasingly finding roles in those leagues. Pulling Clint home looks good, but it undermines the growing appreciation that Americans have for the sport as a whole.

    Clint at Tottenham doesn’t accomplish that, but Clint at Fulham, Stoke, or another EPL team where he starts regularly does.

    If our goal is to grow the sport in our non-immigrant population, Clint in Seattle is bad, if our goal is to grow MLS, it is good. In my opinion, survival of the MLS in the population as a whole requires that non-immigrant fans appreciate the sport per say. This move did nothing but hurt that.

    Isn’t it about time that the MLS or even better, US Soccer, acted like a responsible organization and did some market analysis? What’s their base, where is it coming from, what does it want? Then instead of reading articles by go go MLS writers who think OMG, my man crush of having Clint play in the MLS is coming true, we could determine what will actually help the sport and pursue that?

    Last, someone please have the guts to step up to the plate and thank those immigrants, so maligned by conservatives in this country, for bringing the kind of support that was necessary for soccer to succeed here.

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