SEATTLE — Well, that didn’t take long.
Just one day after the Seattle Sounders announced they had freed up a designated player slot, the team is finalizing the transfer of American star Clint Dempsey, one of the best players in U.S. Soccer history, from Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, according to a report from ESPNFC.com.
Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer and a team spokesman each declined to comment, but Dempsey could be unveiled as early as today’s home game against FC Dallas, said the report, which was confirmed independently by other national outlets. Reports also say he will not play on Saturday because he is not yet on the active roster, but is expected to be in attendance.
Terms of the deal were not immediately known. But NBC Sports’ ProSoccerTalk website said that according to multiple Major League Soccer sources, Tottenham would receive a $9 million transfer fee — the highest in MLS history — and Seattle would guarantee Dempsey $32 million over the next four seasons. It would be the largest base salary ever given to an MLS player.
According to the report, Dempsey’s base salary would eclipse David Beckham and Thierry Henry, although Beckham also received a percentage of the Galaxy’s revenue.
Seattle made room on the roster by agreeing Thursday to a new contract with Shalrie Joseph, which resulted in the veteran midfielder no longer counting as a DP.
Soon, rumors spread about which world-class star could be added before the Aug. 8 deadline, and FOX Soccer host Keith Costigan was first to report on Twitter that the Sounders were interested in Dempsey.
Speculation surrounding Dempsey grew throughout the day on social media as posts on Instagram and Twitter showed the 30-year-old in a London airport and then in San Francisco. There were so many indications he was en route to Seattle that a number of Sounders FC fans went to Sea-Tac International Airport late Thursday night in hopes of spotting the USMNT captain.
“I was almost going to drive out (to the airport) myself,” coach Sigi Schmid joked after Friday’s practice. “I figured if I could spot him then that would be a good thing. I could maybe kidnap him, throw him back in the car and convince him to maybe play for us.”
Schmid had also downplayed rumors of Dempsey’s arrival in a Thursday interview with 950 KJR-AM, but was a bit coy: “You can never close the door on anything,” he said, “but right now there’s nothing that’s nailed down and concrete.”
Dempsey would be the ninth DP in Sounders history, joining forward Obafemi Martins and midfielder Mauro Rosales as Seattle’s current full allotment of three. The prospect of an offense led by Dempsey, Martins and Eddie Johnson has to be a fearsome thought for opposing defenses.
Dempsey, who played in MLS from 2004-06 and was rookie of the year in 2004, has the most Premier League goals by any American with 57.
The Sounders, on the fringe of a playoff position with 15 regular-season games left, could soon earn the label of MLS Cup favorite. The team will need to make the most of games at full strength, though, with Dempsey and Johnson expected to miss time in September and October for World Cup qualifying with the U.S. team.
Dempsey, whose 35 international goals rank second in U.S. history, expressed his admiration for Seattle as a soccer city ahead of a June 11 World Cup qualifier at CenturyLink Field against Panama.
“I’m good friends with Eddie Johnson, and he always tells me what it’s like playing here — playing in front of the fans, just how it’s an atmosphere that’s comparable to what it is in Europe,” Dempsey said. “It’s great to see, because I remember when I first started out in MLS, things weren’t like that. So it’s great to see that the game is building and that there are markets like this where people have passion for the game.
“I almost felt like I was in another country the other day when the Seattle Sounders game was on — I was walking to get dinner, and just walking past a bar, the TV was on and everyone was watching soccer. So for me that was awesome.”
After that June 11 qualifier, a 2-0 win in front of a boisterous crowd, Johnson said some U.S. teammates had expressed interest in playing in Seattle one day.
Once again, it apparently hasn’t taken long.