WASHINGTON, August 6, 2013 — Clint Dempsey’s move to the Seattle Sounders from England’s Tottenham Hotspur surprised a lot of people. Dempsey is only 30 years old and still in his prime. He was competing in one of the world’s best leagues and could have played in Europe for a number of years, yet he decided to come back to MLS.
Of course, the money is good for Dempsey, his contract is reported to be $4-$9 million salary per year. With an eye on next year’s World Cup, he will get playing time at Seattle, whereas at Tottenham he could have been on the bench.
There are some questions to pose, however, about this deal.
MLS prides itself on its policy of parity. The semi-socialist league pays all the players, not the clubs. That policy was introduced by the league at its inception to avoid going the way of the now-defunct North American Soccer League of the 1970s, where small teams could not survive with the big-spending big boys, such as the New York Cosmos.
It has been reported that MLS forked out $9 million to buy Dempsey from the Spurs. How do other teams feel about this? How does the front office at the Columbus Crew, not a rich team, digest this one? MLS is not going to fork out $9 million for them. It is only a matter of time before some general managers from other teams start grumbling about this deal, especially if Seattle suddenly starts dominating the tight Western Conference. As one headline pointed out, this deal exposes some of the gray areas of MLS rules.
Could MLS slip the way of the NASL? Probably not. MLS is run by very smart people and soccer is more-established in America than it was in the 1970s when expensive foreign star-power was needed to bring in the fans.
If you are a Seattle fan you might be pinching yourself with glee over the good news. Real Salt Lake fans might feel a little envious. But Seattle is banking a lot of money on Dempsey. Now the team has to win games. If Dempsey falls out of form, Seattle will have to carry a big mortgage on the guy.
“You can’t help the growth of the game if you don’t perform,” said Dempsey at a press conference this week. “I understand there’s a lot of pressure on me to succeed. There are a lot of expectations that others have on me, but also the expectations I put on myself.”
If any group of fans deserve a player like Dempsey, it is the Seattle fans. They are some of the most devoted and passionate fans in MLS. The signing of Dempsey is truly a gift from the Sounders management to those fans who have made the Sounders the best-supported team in the league.
If anything, this is the best part of the Dempsey deal: the Seattle Sounders fans deserved him.
“When I decided to come back to this league, I wanted to make an impact,” Dempsey said. “I want to do a good job. I don’t want to come and not be able to make a difference in games. I want to win things. I’m still going to work as hard as ever to make sure my game is at the highest level possible, and I’m doing everything I can to help the team win.”
Many American soccer fans will be comforted that Dempsey will be getting playing time in a World Cup year. But would it have been better if he was playing in the highly-competitive Premier League? Not necessarily. Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson, are both looking very good playing in MLS after mixed results playing overseas.
Overall, this is a good move by the league and Seattle. It sends the message to American soccer players that if you are good, you do not have to go overseas. You might just earn as much in MLS as you would playing in some top team in Sweden or Denmark. And if you are playing overseas, come back and we will pay you well.
John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times for 20 years. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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