When Clint Dempsey expressed interest in returning to the MLS from Tottenham Hotspur, Seattle Sounders part-owner and general manager, Adrian Hanauer was floored. “I kind of stopped in my tracks,” he said. “It was one of those memorable moments where you thought, holy crap, this might happen.”
He was up for coming back to MLS, but the only teams he was interested in playing for were Seattle, Los Angeles and Toronto. What’s more, Dempsey’s side was asking for a huge financial commitment: $40 million at first. According to a source with intimate knowledge of the deal, Seattle countered with a first offer of $30 million — $20 million of its own money and $10 million from the league — including the transfer fee to Tottenham.
Last Thursday, Dempsey boarded a plane in London headed to San Francisco and then to Seattle. And then the secrecy plan started to unravel a bit. Users on Twitter posted photographs of Dempsey at Heathrow Airport early in the day. Then a Seattle resident named Jorge Perea posted a picture of him with Dempsey at the San Francisco airport that night. But Perea also added that Dempsey was not on his flight to Seattle, causing many to wonder if Dempsey was instead joining Everton, which was training in the Bay Area at the time.
Garber has said he wants MLS to be on the world’s top soccer leagues by 2022, and Durbin said the Dempsey signing is one big indication of that ambition. “I can think of no better way of saying we’re making good on this promise,” Durbin said. “You’ll see signings like this and commitments like this, not just player signing but player development and [improved] quality of our environments. We are absolutely committed to getting to that place in 2022.”
There will be high expectations in Seattle now, of course, expectations of championships. But on Saturday night, as Joe Roth introduced Dempsey to more than 40,000 cheering Seattle fans, Joe Roth said he got as big an adrenaline rush as he’s ever had doing a lucrative Hollywood movie deal.
“When we turned the corner and it was the first time people in Seattle had seen him, there was a wave of excitement like Babe Ruth had shown up,” Roth said. “Grown men were hugging and crying. All the rumors had turned out to be true. Then when we did the national anthem and he’s standing there in a Sounders shirt with his hand over his heart, it struck me for the first time. I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s Clint Dempsey, and he’s a Sounder!”
Yes, he is. And MLS just got even more interesting.