By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – Just under seven years and 57 English Premier League goals after last playing in Major League Soccer, the captain of the United States Men’s National Team strode onto the pitch at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night, a Seattle Sounder of all things.
And, according to reports, not just a Sounder but also the man responsible for both the largest contract and the largest transfer fee in league history.
Wearing jeans and a hoodie he would later unzip to reveal a Sounders jersey, Clint Dempsey—who once fled a FieldTurf surface in an NFL stadium—emerged from the southwest tunnel minutes before the Sounders’ match against FC Dallas, giving the crowd of 39,360 a thumbs-up and pointing to fans as he made his way to a dais at midfield, flanked by Sounders brass.
At the dais, Sounders majority owner Joe Roth—wearing track pants, of course—playfully asked Dempsey if he had decided where he wanted to play. The now-former Tottenham man promptly removed his hoodie to reveal a No. 2 Seattle jersey and held aloft a Sounders scarf to a roar fans here usually reserve for game-winning goals late in the year.
The Jumbotron then played an abbreviated version of the Dempsey song “Don’t Tread” before the 30-year-old addressed the crowd.
“Seattle, I just want to thank you all and the Seattle Sounders organization for making me feel so at home,” he said. “I look forward to getting on the field and playing in front of some of the best fans in the world. I think we’ll accomplish some great things here. So once again, thank you.”
Dempsey next moved to a riser immediately in front of the supporters’ section, once again raising his scarf to start the match before departing as he came, stopping to sign a few balls and scarves along the way to the tunnel.
In a press release—the Sounders aren’t making Dempsey available until a Monday press conference—Dempsey added, “I am very excited about coming back to MLS and thrilled to be joining Sounders FC. Having recently played in Seattle with the national team, I experienced the incredible atmosphere and the passion from the supporters first-hand. It’s going to be an honor to represent the fans in Seattle.”
While pushing off most Dempsey questions until Monday, head coach Sigi Schmid did confirm after the match that Seattle’s newest Designated Player is ready to start practicing immediately.
“Clint will start training with us next week,” Schmid said. “He’s gone through part of preseason already with Tottenham. He’s a pretty fit guy. He’ll be ready to go.”
After the match, Dempsey’s new teammates seemed both excited and, like much of the soccer world, stunned by something that went from the wildest of “silly season” rumors to fact in a seeming heartbeat. It’s not every day, after all, an MLS team spends a reported $41 million on transfer and contract costs for a single player.
“It’s one of those where you never think it would happen,” said midfielder and USMNT teammate Brad Evans. “It’s almost like one of those ones where it’s almost a joke when you first hear about it. You first hear the rumblings, you hear about people going to Sea-Tac [Airport] and hanging out and it’s cool. It’s great for the game, the team. It’s great for MLS and [I'm] obviously looking forward to playing with him.”
“What a great contribution added to our team, and added to this league,” said Eddie Johnson. “You know every little kid in America wants to be like Clint [Dempsey]. We’re happy to have him here in Seattle.”
“It’s unbelievable to get a player of that quality who is still 30,” said goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. An avid outdoorsman, Hahnemann added, “I have a new fishing buddy, so I’m excited.”
So, it seems, is all of Seattle.