LOS ANGELES – Clint Dempsey held a Seattle Sounders scarf above his head and it felt like a statement with weight.
Nearly 40,000 in CenturyLink Field cheered MLS' latest Designated Player. The move commands the attention of far more than that.
Official confirmation of Dempsey's transfer to the Seattle Sounders trickled through during the first match of a Guinness International Champions Cup doubleheader at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Personnel from either match weighed in on the transfer, which cost Seattle a reported $9 million.
U.S. national team goalkeeper Tim Howard's first word when asked about the return of the U.S. national team captain to the league where he began his professional career was, “Wow.”
“I was impressed. I was excited for him,” Howard said. “I didn't know the ins and outs of it and I've not spoken to him, but I think it's exciting for everyone involved. I've been saying quietly for the past couple years now: why not break the bank and bring America's best player back? We're bringing a lot of foreigners back, so let's do that. Not that they listen to me, but it's funny that happened because I think it's going to be a huge positive.”
Does Howard wish an MLS team would break the bank to lure him back Stateside?
“My bank's OK right now,” Howard quipped. “I'm happy at Everton, it's fantastic. I've got three more years [on my contract.]”
Terms of Dempsey's deal won't be official until the MLS Players Union releases salary figures for the entire league this fall, but initial reports suggest the 30-year-old's base salary could set a league record. (David Beckham made $6.5m per year during his first half decade in the league.)
Former U.S. coach Bruce Arena brought Dempsey to his first World Cup, in 2006. The then New England Revolution forward scored against Ghana. Now general manager and head coach of the LA Galaxy, Arena sees the signing as a boon for the league.
“I think it's good,” Arena said. “He's an exceptional player. He'll obviously be a very good player in this league.”
Fox Soccer's Eric Wynalda reported that the Galaxy also bid for Dempsey. Since the departure of Beckham last winter, an extra DP spot has burned a hole in LA's pocket. The club also reportedly bid for Mexican international Giovani Dos Santos this summer.
“We don't want to discuss any of that,” Arena said when asked about the veracity of Wynalda's report.
Bringing the U.S. captain back in his prime is something perhaps four MLS clubs could spring -- Seattle, Los Angeles, Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls. Especially impressive is that Seattle convinced Dempsey to forgo his dream of playing in the Champions League (UEFA, not CONCACAF).
The Texan has developed exponentially since Arena first brought him to the World Cup. He scored 12 goals in the English Premier League with Tottenham last season. Now, Jurgen Klinsmann leans on Dempsey for leadership and goals.
Especially with concerns over the quality of play in the league in a World Cup year, the U.S. national team benefits substantially less than MLS.
Then again, the Galaxy didn't come out ahead in the deal either, especially if Dempsey did turn down the two-time reigning MLS Cup champion.
“I would have loved to have him,” Arena said. But he doesn't. Seattle does.
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