SEATTLE — Clint Dempsey was thinking like a father, just as much as a world-class soccer player, when weighing a return to MLS.
He was thinking about his kids playing tee-ball and going fishing.
He wanted his three children—two daughters and a son—to be raised in America, like he was in Nacogdoches, Texas, with all the same opportunities and privileges.
Above all, he wanted to come home.
“I was starting to get that itch,” Dempsey said at his introductory news conference Monday as the newest member of Sounders FC. “I’d been in Europe for six-and-a-half years. … Every year it was more difficult to go back.”
The timing was right. Add in what is reportedly the biggest transfer fee and contract in league history, and a superstar has landed in Seattle.
Next up? Dempsey’s debut, and Sounders fans apparently won’t have to wait long.
Coach Sigi Schmid said he expects the designated player to play in Saturday’s road game at Toronto FC, maybe as a substitute. The transition into the lineup will be deliberate—Dempsey had been in preseason with Tottenham of the English Premier League—but waiting won’t come easily.
“One of big things that Clint is going to provide for us is leadership at crucial moments in critical games,” said Schmid. “He’s an experienced player. He’s a player who’s played in Europa League matches, who’s played in the EPL, who’s been in World Cup qualifiers, who’s played in a World Cup. You can’t have enough of those types of guys.”
Dempsey was what the Sounders called a “dream big” player two years ago, but all inquiries about potential move were met with the same response: “No chance.”
That was until a couple weeks ago, when MLS officials contacted Sounders owners Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer to see if interest remained.
Roth was eager to get the move done, but Hanauer was more hesitant. It would be a substantial financial commitment, reportedly a record $8 million per season, but when ownership agreed the signing made sense, fantasy quickly turned into reality.
“Dream big” now means an MLS Cup.
“We definitely have some pretty good weaponry at this point,” Hanauer said, “and the idea was that we want to win championships. We don’t like getting beat … and so hopefully this helps us get over the hump.”
The Dempsey signing has received some backlash around the league, mainly due to a lack of transparency in MLS rules. Many believed that returning U.S. national-team players were subject to the allocation order, but officials from the league explained that DP signings are exempt.
From a U.S. Soccer perspective, some have wondered if the move is a step back for the national-team captain heading into next year’s FIFA World Cup. A report from Sports Illustrated on Monday said Dempsey could go on loan in the offseason, and the 30-year-old has insisted motivation won’t be an issue.
“Coming here, I’m still going to have that pressure to succeed pushing me every day to make sure that I can be the best player that I can be, and help the team be the best they can be,” Dempsey said. “I’m not going to let up or slow down or slack off.”
“The goal here is to win an MLS Cup, and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.”
More than 60,000 tickets have been sold for Sounders FC’s next home game, Aug. 25 against rival Portland, as more sections of CenturyLink Field will be opened. The team’s record for attendance is 66,452 for an MLS game, set against the Timbers last year.