Clint Dempsey is Coming Home to MLS: What Does it Mean?

In one of the most shocking transfers ever in the history of MLS, U.S. Men’s National Team captain and forward Clint Dempsey will be coming back stateside to play for Seattle Sounders FC. In a surprise move from north London club Tottenham Hotspur, Dempsey was bought by his new club Seattle for a reported $9 million transfer fee, according to ESPN. Many across the country and around the world are scratching their heads at the move, and are wondering what it means for Dempsey and for Major League Soccer.

Clint Dempsey. Photo courtsey

Clint Dempsey. Photo courtsey

First, from the player’s perspective:

Dempsey spent the last 6 years of his career playing in England’s Premier League, first for Fulham FC beginning in 2007, and then last year moved across town to Tottenham. Though he performed well at Craven Cottage and at White Hart Lane, he was not a regular in Villas Boas’ starting eleven during his last year of play for Tottenham. Even though Spurs may lose their prized possession, winger Gareth Bale, to a very lucrative sale to Real Madrid, they have added a couple of new attacking stars to the side in Soldado and Paulinho. Any player, no matter how prestigious or competitive the club they play for might be, wants to be out on the pitch as often as possible. If you are not playing, you are not happy. Pure and simple.

The downside to the move, from a player’s standpoint, is that the level of play is lower in MLS than in the BPL – if we’re truly honest. MLS has made incredible strides since its inception in 1996, especially in the last 10 years, but it still can not compare to the top leagues in Europe. U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has even said that he prefers his top players to be playing in Europe. The danger here is that as a player, you rise (or fall) to the level of play around you, and in this case the level of play surrounding Dempsey is going to fall from where he is coming from. Thus the concern is for Dempsey losing some of what he has gained by playing across the pond these past 6 years.

Dempsey is set to make a reported $32 million over 4 years, according to ESPN, the highest base salary in MLS history. He was preparing to make what was probably his last “big money” deal in the BPL and if Tottenham was not going to be the place for him, which of the other top 6 clubs would spend that kind of money for him? Unfortunately for Dempsey, the answer most likely would be none at this point.

Even though he had personal dreams of playing in the UEFA Champions League, after turning 30 in March of this year, Dempsey also wanted to secure his playing and financial future. The move to Seattle offered that. If he was not assured a move to another top 6 club that would put that UEFA CL dream into the realm of possible for the kind of money he was looking for, then why not make a move to a place where he knows he will be a star and will get the playing time he deserves?

Now, let’s look at the move from a MLS point of view:

This is without a doubt an absolute coup for the league to bring back arguably America’s best player in the prime of his playing career. This move signifies the status of MLS as a place that is no longer a league for big name European “has beens”, and is now a destination for homegrown top talent to spend their prime years. As a developing league, there’s nothing more you could ask for from a brand image perspective.

Dempsey could have easily stayed in England. There would have been multiple teams lined up to take him happily into their squads with open arms. Instead, he chose to come back home to MLS. This is an extremely impactful statement, the true power of which will hopefully be shown when Seattle and MLS leverage Dempsey moving forward.

Regardless of your opinion, Dempsey is now a Seattle Sounder and will be playing in MLS very soon. At this point, all we can say is “welcome home Clint, welcome home.”

What do you think about Clint Dempsey’s surprise transfer to Seattle Sounders FC? Let us know in the comments section below or via Twitter or Facebook.


Reporting on the business side of the world's game.