United States national team captain Clint Dempsey is now also Seattle Sounders FC designated player Clint Dempsey.
The second-leading scorer in U.S. national team history was welcomed Saturday with a standing ovation from the crowd of 39,360 at CenturyLink Field, most of whom bought their tickets expecting a mere soccer match and ended up witnessing what projects as one of the most significant personnel moves in Major League Soccer history.
“In doing something of this magnitude, we had to make sure that we had the right player,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said in a club press release. “Clint Dempsey fits that mold. Clint is a proven winner, a leader, and a competitor who we believe will raise the bar for this organization.”
Minutes after the welcoming ceremonies, the Sounders went out and demonstrated the meaning of star power as designated players Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales combined for the first goal, and U.S. national team members Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans scored the others as the Sounders rolled to a 3-0 win over FC Dallas.
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“You always want to put in a good performance when you sign a big-name player,” Evans said.
“… I think it was a reward for the fans. They came out early, they wanted to see the big presentation. Then we got on (Dallas) early.”
The result moved the Sounders (9-7-4) to a club-record nine-game unbeaten streak at home. Dallas (8-6-8) extended its winless streak to nine games.
Seattle jumped ahead in the eighth minute as Rosales launched a free kick into the penalty area, where Martins got his head to it and flicked it past All-Star goalkeeper Raul Fernandez.
In the 22nd minute, Evans lofted a long pass over the Dallas back line where Johnson beat Fernandez one-on-one.
Evans set the final score with a penalty kick in stoppage time.
It totaled more than enough for goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who recovered from a hamstring injury enough to record the shutout in his Seattle MLS debut.
“I’m not quite 100 percent, but … we thought that we would go ahead and try it tonight, and it worked out,” said Hahnemann, a former Kentridge High and Seattle Pacific University star. “We got a clean sheet, which was absolutely awesome, and I got one more chance to play in front of this crowd. It’s great. I’ll take it.”
Especially in the first half, the Sounders played with an energy that reflect the buzz in the stadium following the Dempsey announcement.
“I just want to thank you all and the Seattle Sounders organization for making me feel so welcome and at home,” Dempsey told the crowd while wearing a rave green Sounders jersey. “I look forward to getting out on the field and playing before some of the best fans in the world. I think we’ll come up with some great things here.”
Dempsey is one of the most decorated and highest-profile players in U.S. soccer history. His 35 career goals are second-most for the U.S. national team behind Landon Donovan’s 56. His 57 English Premier League goals are the most by an American player.
“Clint is a world-class soccer player who can take this club to a higher level,” majority owner Joe Roth said in the release. “We have been consistent in our message to the fans that we will spare no expense to win trophies.”
That appears true. NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk website reported Dempsey was acquired for a $9 million transfer fee, and will get $32 million in salary over four seasons. That’s the highest transfer fee in MLS history, and the highest base salary, although David Beckham’s total compensation was higher.
Dempsey is a three-time U.S. Soccer male athlete of the year, including the past two years. He was drafted into MLS in 2004, winning rookie of the year honors and going on to be a two-time Best XI player. In three seasons at New England, he scored 25 goals with 14 assists in 71 appearances.
He has played the past seven seasons in the English Premier League, first with Fulham – where fans twice voted him club player of the year – and most recently with Tottenham Hotspur.
Neither Dempsey, Roth nor Hanauer addressed the media Saturday, waiting for a Monday press conference.
Dempsey’s playing debut could come Saturday when the club visits Toronto FC. His home debut is expected to be Aug. 25, when the Portland Timbers visit.
“Clint will start training with us (this) week,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s gone through part of preseason already with Tottenham, so he’s a pretty fit guy. He’ll be ready to go.”