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High Hopes for Sounders with Star Acquisition

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo

The Seattle Sounders took a big step toward establishing themselves as a world-class team with this week's acquisition of Clint Dempsey, the captain of the U.S. Men's National Team.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says this is a big deal.  

"The Sounders have acquired the best American player. They paid a huge amount of money for him. And the profile they're getting nationally and internationally—you just can't buy," he said. 

That comment from Art pretty much sums up why fans in Seattle—and throughout Major League Soccer—are so excited about Clint Dempsey's signing with the Sounders.

In His Prime

Dempsey is 30 years old and in his prime. He has played in Europe the past six and a half years. Art says most players on the European circuit don't return to the U.S. until the end of their careers.

"Dempsey is regarded by many as the best American soccer player now and among the best ever," he said. "So for him to make a decision to leave the English premiership and return to the U.S. in his prime really was a shocker."

Dempsey is no stranger to international play. He honed his hard-charging style of play while participating in Mexican leagues as a kid in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Spend It Like Beckham

Dempsey has signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with the Sounders worth nearly $24 million. That's breaks down to about $6.9 million a year. That's a higher base salary than retired LA Galaxy star David Beckham.

Art says Beckham also made money off things like ticket sales and t-shirts but his base salary was not as much as what Dempsey will be getting from the Sounders.

Dempsey is one of three designated players on the Sounders roster, which means he is not subject to Major League Soccer's overall $3 million cap on a team's salary.

Fans = Money

The Sounders had a lot of cash to spend on him. That's because they've led Major League Soccer (MLS) in attendance five years running. They average 40,000/game. The next best team, the LA Galaxy, averages 21,000.

"The Sounders really haven't played up to that attendance figure," Art said. "They've been in the playoffs each of their first four years. But they only got out of the first round last year and then were stopped by the Galaxy in the second round because they had better designated players."

"The Sounders vowed last winter to get better designated players. And majority owner Joe Roth certainly walked his talk with the signing of Dempsey," Art said.

Dempsey's Deep Impact

Art says Dempsey's impact is going to be league-wide.

"It's already sort of worldwide because the European leagues have never lost a player in his prime back to the U.S.," he said. "And the MLS is going to benefit because he's going to have a lot more attention in all the road venues. So it's going to be a net increase for everybody's revenue in MLS."

Seattle Will Be a 'Madhouse'

The Sounders are breaking records for the Aug. 25th match versus Portland at CenturyLink Field - Dempsey's home debut.

"That is going to be the event of the summer - if not the sports year - in Seattle!" Art exclaimed. "They already had 60,000 seats sold because the Timbers are a great rival of Seattle in the Cascadia Cup. And after Dempsey's signing, they sold  6,000 more seats. Now, it's a full stadium sellout (72,000 people). They're adding extra seats and selling standing room only."

"This is for a regular season game between two MLS teams, both in the Northwest, and it's going to be the event of the soccer year. And certainly it's going to be a madhouse in Seattle on that Sunday."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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