Last Saturday, Clint Dempsey, late of the Premiership’s Tottenham Hotspur and before that Fulham Football Club, became a member of Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders.
Dempsey is 30. He’d been outstanding in MLS, playing well enough for the New England Revolution from 2004 through 2006 to earn employment in London. Now Dempsey is back.
Another fellow who’s played his share of soccer around the world, Alexi Lalas, joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: Just over a year ago, Clint Dempsey who was then with Fulham said that his goal was to play for a team that earned a spot in the Champions League. He joined Tottenham Hotspur, which fell just short of that achievement. Do you think that had anything to do with his decision to return to the U.S.?
AL: It might’ve. I still think he could’ve continued to follow that dream. But the reality is that he looked at it and said “Alright, I’m gonna make as much if not more money than I could.” It’s gonna be a situation where it’s gonna be a better lifestyle for him and his family. And don’t underestimate how important that is, especially for American-born and raised soccer players going abroad. And finally, coming back to MLS not at the end of his career, but in the prime of his career. All of those different factors weighed into him making this decision.
BL: Fans of U.S. soccer have celebrated when U.S. players have succeeded in the Premiership or the top leagues in Germany or Italy or somewhere else, and that success, of course, has been regarded as measure of the progress of soccer here in the U.S. Should they also be celebrating Dempsey’s return?
AL: I think they should. It can be as good if not, in some ways, better for a player to be playing in MLS. Seattle made him the highest-paid player in MLS history. So with that comes incredible pressure. As far as the American public, there’s always consternation as to whether players are doing the right thing or as a soccer-playing nation we’re doing the right thing. It’s just this complex that we’ve developed where we can’t possibly measure up, and sometimes in that compare and contrast, we don’t. Now, whether that’s the reality or the perception, it doesn’t really matter. It just contributes to it.
BL: Is that math correct? Will Dempsey really make more money than David Beckham did?
AL: Well, the math in terms of the salary is right. David Beckham had a component where he was revenue sharing. And so that put him at a different level. But as far as what we hear from the actual salary that he’s making, without a doubt he will be the high-paid player in league history when all is said and done. It’s a wonderful message not only for the league and the sport but also for Seattle to be sending out that he’s an American. For me, a guy that’s been around, been through the wars and Wild West that has been American soccer – as you have been – I’m proud of this moment. I’m proud of the fact that there is an American that has been brought back in his prime and is being paid as the highest-paid player in the league. I think it says a lot about where MLS is and certainly where it’s going. It’s a wonderful statement not just domestically, but internationally to make.
BL: In terms of attendance at least, the Sounders are already the most successful club in MLS. They’ve been filling the stadium without Clint Dempsey. I wonder if it might’ve been better for the league if he’d gone [to another team]?
AL: Well, it is a race to the moon. And people want to plant that flag with regards to their brand, their individual team. And certainly, the Los Angeles Galaxy with what they have done on the field and what they have done off the field with the branding and David Beckham and all of that has made them – I get a lot of for using the term – “Super Club.” But the reality is that’s what all these teams are all trying to be: the club that people think about first when they think about Major League Soccer. And right now it’s the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Seattle Sounders, with what they are doing and the atmosphere and the culture they have cultivated up there, they have aspirations to also be a “Super Club” in the United States and viewed around the world as that club. And certainly when you sign a player for this much money with this amount of fanfare and what’s already in existence over there, I think they’re well on their way. But ultimately, I think this was a very, very good move, and one of those moments that we’ll look back at this many years from now and say, “Hey, that was an important platform, an important move to make.”