Dempsey Makes MLS Return

Clint Dempsey celebrates his first goal in a Tottenham uniform, a game winner against Manchester United in September. (Photo: Tottenham Hotspur)

Clint Dempsey celebrates his first goal in a Tottenham uniform, a game winner against Manchester United in September. (Photo: Tottenham Hotspur)

Less than a year after making a high profile move from perennial mid-table Barclays Premier League side Fulham FC to top four contenders Tottenham Hotspur with Champions League dreams, Clint Dempsey is on his way back to MLS in a record deal that sees the U.S. International join the Seattle Sounders.

The move set league records with Seattle paying $9 million to Spurs for Dempsey’s services, a record fee for an MLS club. The Sounders will also pay the former New England Revolution star $32 million over the next four seasons, the highest base salary ever paid to an MLS player – surpassing even former Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham – according to a report NBC’s ProSoccerTalk.

Still, even with the stunning price tag and salary, the move comes as a bit of a shock from Dempsey, after the attacking midfielder/forward forced his way out of Fulham last summer insisting he wanted to play his soccer at the highest level, searching for a club that would give him the chance to play in the UEFA Champions League.

“The fact remains that I want to play in Champions League,” Dempsey told the Guardian last summer. “I want to play at the highest level possible. I want to do as much as I can in my career and look back and say I made the most of all the opportunities I have had. I am always going to want to play in Champions League.”

At that time, Dempsey was coming off a record season with Fulham, having scored 17 Premier League goals, good enough for fourth overall in the league. He scored or assisted on 54% of Fulham’s goal that season, earning him Fulham ‘Player of the Season’ for the second straight year.

Unsurprisingly, his play reportedly earned him interest from the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool in the Premier League, and high-spending French Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain F.C. Eventually the interest led to a late August move to Tottenham Hotspur for a reported $9.6 million fee, just $0.6 million more than Seattle is now paying for his services.

While Dempsey had big shoes to fill at a club that had finished fourth in the 2011-12 season – missing out on the Champions League only due to Chelsea FC qualifying via winning the competition and taking the Premier League’s fourth spot despite finishing sixth in league play – and had lost star midfielders Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart in the offseason, the U.S. International left his mark.

In 43 appearances for Spurs, Dempsey would record 12 goals through all competitions, including several particularly memorable strikes. His first goal proved the game-winner in a shocking 3-2 win over eventual runaway league Champions Manchester United at Old Trafford in late September. He’d later score a stoppage time equalizer to stun the Red Devils again in a January 1-1 draw.

Against Swiss club Basel in April, in the second leg of a Europa League Quarterfinals, Dempsey would strike twice to send the game to overtime, though Spurs would eventually go crashing out on penalty kicks. Ten days later, Dempsey helped spark a comeback win against Manchester City with a late equalizer in a match Spurs would go on to win 3-1. His timely strikes helped lead Tottenham to their best record and highest point total in club history – 21-8-9, 72 points. For the second straight season, however, Spurs finished one point behind Arsenal for a Champions League spot, this time in fifth place.

Dempsey and Spurs Champions League dreams wouldn’t be reached for the 2013-14 season, but with Tottenham adding the likes of Spanish striker Roberto Soldado, who recorded 30 goals for Valencia last season, Brazilian midfielder Paulinho from Corinthians, and Belgian winger Nacer Chadli from FC Twente this offseason for a combined fee of around $76 million, a top four spot surely appeared within reach this season – even if superstar Gareth Bale ends up moving to Real Madrid.

Unfortunately for Dempsey, those moves also appeared to make the American expendable. Rumors began to circulate last month about the 6-foot-1 Texan being transfer listed by the club. Dempsey temporarily quelled those murmurs with a goal and a strong performance in a preseason in Spurs 6-0 rout over South China last Saturday, July 27.

But, just days later Dempsey was back in the news with links to Everton FC, as well as MLS sides Seattle and the New York Red Bulls. Then on Friday, a move to Seattle was confirmed. Dempsey leaves behind Spurs and his Champions League dreams to join a Sounders side sitting in seventh place in the West, currently on the outside of the playoff picture. At age 30, Dempsey leaves the Premier League with 57 goals, by far the most scored by an American, outpacing former Fulham teammate Brian McBride’s 36.

The Nacogdoches native returns to the league where his professional career started with the New England Revolution. Dempsey spent three years with New England, where he scored 25 goals and added 14 assists in 71 MLS games. He appeared in two MLS Cup finals with the Revolution, was a two time MLS Best XI selection and the 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year before moving to Fulham in January 2007. His former teammate and former Revolution Captain Shalrie Joseph renegotiated his contract with Seattle and took a pay cut last week to help make Dempsey’s move to the Sounders possible.

Dempsey, a three time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year (2007, 2011, 2012), has appeared 99 times for the U.S. National Team and is second all-time in goals with 35. Barring a surprise, he a guaranteed starter at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Until then, Dempsey won’t be seeking a Premier League title or a Champions League spot, instead he’ll be with the Sounders, searching for the one thing that eluded him in his time with the Revolution, an MLS Cup.

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About Sean Donahue

Sean Donahue has been covering the New England Revolution since 2002 for various publications. He has covered four MLS Cups, in addition to covering various international matches, including World Cup Qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has done freelance work for the AP and ESPN Boston. Sean hosted Revolution Recap, a weekly radio program covering the New England Revolution and U.S. Men's National Team from 2005-2008. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters. Sean can be reached at nesoccertoday@gmail.com or followed on twitter @SeanLDonahue