By KEVIN KOCZWARA
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Revolution General Manager Mike Burns believes Clint Dempsey’s return to Major League Soccer is a big statement by the U.S. Men’s National Team captain.
Dempsey’s return to the league where got his professional debut while still in the prime of his career shows he thinks MLS is more than just a stepping stone.
“Everyone would love to have Clint Dempsey, but there are not a lot of Clint Dempseys out there. I think because it’s Clint, because it’s a returning U.S. National Team player and not just any player – I mean Clint is arguably one of, if not the, top players of the U.S. National Team – I think this just makes a big statement of what he thinks about the league, and wanting to return. It’s not easy to get Clint Dempsey, but for sure everyone would love to have him,” Burns said before the Revolution’s game against Toronto on Sunday.
Dempsey’s return to Major League Soccer surprised Burns, especially because of the way the negotiations were kept under wraps by MLS, the Seattle Sounders, Dempsey’s representatives and Tottenham.
“I think for me personally, it was a little surprising,” said Burns. “It seemed like it happened relatively quickly, not having any involvement on the inside of negotiations with the league in Seattle. I think they did a very commendable job keeping the lid on this until the last possible minute.”
Dempsey proved to be Seattle’s second marquee signing of the season so far — the first being the signing of Obafemi Martins from La Liga side Levante — and Burns admits the Sounders are setting the setting the standard in MLS when it comes to player acquisitions.
“I think [Seattle] just keep raising the bar with two very big, high-profile, highly-compensated designated players,” said Burns. “I think it raises the bar for the rest of the league.”
And with MLS continuing to expand, Burns sees teams trying to make more high-profile signings like that of a Dempsey in the coming years because teams are going to have to find ways to separate themselves from the rest of the league. One way to make a splash and instantly improve a team on the field as well a team’s standing with fans is to go out and get a top-tier player.
“I think we’re going to need to [bring in more high-profile players]. I don’t want to say that lightly, but the Commissioner [Don Garber] said last week that we want to get to 24 teams, and that’s not going to all come from (the) academy. It’s not going to all come from domestic players,” said Burns. “You’re going to have to have international players, and I think you’re going to see more higher-profile players come into the league over the next five to 10 years for sure.”
Dempsey played three seasons in New England before transferring to Fulham in the winter of 2006. At the time, his transfer to Craven Cottage was the costliest in league history. To bring Dempsey back to the MLS, Seattle had to break the transfer record because he grew into the player he is today, a proven goalscorer in the Premier League and captain of the US national team. But Burns sees Dempsey’s experience and success in MLS as major stepping stones for the player, like it has been for other top American players, because it built a foundation for him to work off of when he arrived in the Premier League.
“You can probably give examples of a couple different scenarios: you have players that want to go to Europe right out of the gate, and then you have players that – like Michael Bradley, Timmy Howard, Clint Dempsey – have played in MLS, gotten some experience, and then gone to Europe and have done very, very well, and are now coming back — it remains to be seen of the other guys I just mentioned,” said Burns. “But I think there’s a lot to that – that they’ve gotten experience here in the U.S. playing game after game, season after season, and then being able to apply that in a different league.”
With Seattle’s signing of Dempsey, Burns was asked if New England would be signing any new players and the Revs GM admitted that the team was in the process of trying to sign some new players before Thursday.
“We are looking to add before Thursday, but there’s nothing to announce yet. There’s a good chance that something may happen, but it’s not done,” said Burns, but he would say if the team is trying to bringing in a designated player.