Saturday’s announcement that U.S. National Team captain Clint Dempsey has left the glamour of the English Premier League to play in Major League Soccer for Sounders FC sent shockwaves through the national soccer scene.
It will be Dempsey’s second MLS stint after starting his professional career with the New England Revolution in 2004, helping the Revs to the MLS Cup final in 2005 and 2006 before departing for Fulham in the English Premier League.
This week, his teammates on that New England squad spoke about his return to the league and the impact it has on MLS.
Sounders FC midfielder Shalrie Joseph played with Dempsey for three years with the Revs. They were both named to the MLS Best XI, along with teammate Taylor Twellman, in 2005. If anyone knows the impact Dempsey can have on the Seattle locker room and on the field, it’s Joseph.
“Personally, I know how talented he is and the last couple of years, he’s developed into one of the best players on the U.S. team. Having him back in MLS in the prime of his career is going to be great for the league and great for the Seattle organization,” Joseph said. “It’s going to be fun playing beside him.”
In a league that counts Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Cuauhtémoc Blanco among the top signings in recent history, Dempsey ranks right there among the best and most impactful to play in the league.
“It’s a huge, transcending moment,” said former Seattle defender James Riley, who was drafted by New England in 2005 and had his locker right next to Dempsey’s for the two seasons that they were teammates. “It’s a huge, huge testament to the league to bring a player of his caliber – a domestic American player who watched the league and went through the college system – back in his prime.”
The historical significance of the move is not lost on Riley either.
“To have played with a player like that and see what he’s become for American soccer and soccer in general, and to see him come in in his prime – he’s writing a new and incredible chapter in American soccer history,” said Riley, now with DC United.
New England General Manager Mike Burns was the Revolution’s Director of Soccer from 2005-2008 before climbing the ladder to eventually reach the GM post. He presided over the Revs in some of their strongest years, including two with Dempsey on the roster.
“At 30 years old, in his prime, one of the top players in the U.S., to return the year before World Cup year, I think says an awful lot,” Burns told New England’s media this weekend. “Everyone would love to have Clint Dempsey, but there are not a lot of Clint Dempseys out there. I think this just makes a big statement of what he thinks about the league, and wanting to return.”
Twellman, now an analyst for ESPN, talked with Dave “Softy” Mahler on SportsRadio KJR in Seattle and echoed the sentiments of Burns, Riley and Joseph, but added excitement for the city of Seattle to bring in such a prominent player. Twellman has always held Seattle’s supporters in high regard and didn’t hold back in expressing the value of rewarding those fans with a top talent like Dempsey.
When asked if he thought U.S. teammates Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans influenced Dempsey’s decision to come to Seattle, Twellman said, “If you need any convincing to go to Seattle Sounders and play in front of that environment and that crowd, then I would actually have to question whether or not you know what you're doing. I'm really pumped for the Seattle fans. You deserve it.”