Dempsey-Sounders divine soccer match

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comAugust 6, 2013 

Sounders fans are whipped up in a rave-green frenzy for the debut of Clint Dempsey, who was introduced as the team’s newest member before Saturday’s game at CenturyLink Field. Dempsey could see game action this weekend at Toronto FC.

TED S. WARREN/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

By now you’ve read of the Clint Dempsey signing by Seattle Sounders FC; after all, some of the reports declared it “colossal,” and cited the fan base as “euphoric” in the aftermath.

Somebody else can better explain Dempsey’s strengths on the pitch and how he will impact the Sounders’ fortunes. And you can judge your own degree of euphoria and report back to us.

What I can let you in on, after Dempsey’s news conference Monday at CenturyLink Field, was something important you could see in his eyes: The guy really wants to be here.

This is not some Euro-diva looking to cash in on his reputation as he limps through the last couple seasons of his career.

This guy is captain of the U.S. national team, a bona fide star in the prime of his career, and a totally mellow dude off the pitch, but a wild-eyed, demonic competitor come game time.

And it is the good fortune of the Sounders that he’s also a guy who wants to live in a place where he occasionally can go fishing, and his kids can grow up playing T-ball.

Three cheers for the red, white and blue. Oh, and there was the little incentive of $32 million over four years that also played a role in his arrival. But he could have gotten fat paydays in a lot of other places, too.

After six-plus seasons in Europe, as a force in the famed English Premier League, Dempsey, 30, admitted he had grown homesick.

“I had a good time in Europe; I look back with no regrets,” he said. “I’d been there for six and a half years, and I wanted to come home. I was starting to get that itch. Every year, it was more difficult to go back.”

Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said he and fellow team owner Joe Roth had kept a list of “dream-big players” who they would target if the long-shot situation ever arose, and Dempsey always was at the top.

No, they were never going to get Lionel Messi or one of the single-named Brazilians, but it also was a stretch to dream of Dempsey, and they had to stretch their wallets wide to do it, making his contract the most generous in Major League Soccer history.

Dempsey was impressed by the energy of soccer fans in Seattle when he appeared with the national team in a World Cup qualifier against Panama in June at CenturyLink. And he heard of the fan support from national teammate Eddie Johnson, a Sounders player who knows the average attendance in Seattle is about 4,000 more per game than what Dempsey’s Tottenham team draws in England.

The wealth and adulation are far removed from the trailer park in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he grew up. He was pestered back then with questions about why he would play soccer instead of red-blooded American games such as football or baseball.

At the time, the parents of some of his teammates helped fund his expenses to be on elite soccer teams. And when he was 12, his older sister Jennifer died of a brain aneurysm. She had been a promising youth tennis player.

So it is not surprising, when he was announced as the newest member of the Sounders at Saturday night’s game, and the fans responded with a prolonged ovation, that he said “it felt like a movie … I never felt so welcome.”

Coach Sigi Schmid certainly welcomed him.

“It makes a huge statement for the league (having) the ability to bring back a player like Clint when he’s still in his prime,” Schmid said. “I think the statement is we’re ready to step up to that next level. For our club, it’s a tremendous commitment that ownership has made, and it’s also a fantastic reward for our fans.”

It shows, Schmid added, “We’re not satisfied with just being average; we want to be the best.”

And for all those reasons, Dempsey said Seattle “is the perfect place to be.”

“I’m looking forward to getting on the field and paying back the ownership, paying back the fans, paying back the league — making sure I show them it was a good investment and we’re going to do some great things,” he said.

“I’m not going to let up or slow down. I’m gonna keep pushing myself and working hard and making the most of where I am. I’m happy to be here in Seattle.”

You could see it in his eyes.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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