SEATTLE — Clint Dempsey waited on the small stage at midfield.
Finally he unzipped his sweatshirt and made official a surprising career move.
Dempsey is leaving behind the Premier League to play for the Seattle Sounders.
Dempsey was introduced as the newest designated player for the Sounders on Saturday night prior to Seattle’s match against FC Dallas.
It concluded a whirlwind 48 hours of rumors and speculation that Dempsey was leaving Tottenham Hotspur and returning to Major League Soccer.
ESPN first reported Friday that a transfer was imminent and Tottenham confirmed Dempsey’s move back to MLS early Saturday. Terms of Dempsey’s deal were not announced by the club.
“This is a historic day for Sounders FC and our fans,” Sounders majority owner Joe Roth said in a release. “Clint is a world-class soccer player who can take this club to a higher level. We have been consistent in our message to the fans that we will spare no expense to win trophies.”
Dempsey was expected to address the reasons behind his move during a news conference scheduled for Monday. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid brought Dempsey into the locker room and introduced him to the team before Seattle’s 3-0 victory over Dallas.
“I’m happy for him. It’s good for the league having a player like Clint come back at a young age who still has many more years of soccer left in him,” Seattle forward Eddie Johnson said.
“It just shows you where soccer is in this country having guys like that come back says a lot about how much the league has grown, how much better the soccer is here in America. It’s only going to attract many other good football players throughout the world.”
The 30-year-old Dempsey played for the New England Revolution from 2004-06 before joining Fulham in 2007.
He moved to Tottenham last summer and scored 12 goals in 43 games, but wasn’t a regular starter for the Spurs while being used in rotation with other attacking players.
The move is surprising as Dempsey is giving up a chance to play in one of the top leagues in the world in the prime of his career and a year before the World Cup in Brazil.
“I was a little bit surprised about it, sure. Because it is an interesting step career wise at a point in time where you would kind of maybe question that,” former U.S. national team goalkeeper and current Sounders TV analyst Kasey Keller said before Saturday’s announcement.
“But when you look more at the details and who is involved and what we’re talking about financially it all kind of comes into place.”
There were signs Seattle was on the verge of making a big splash before the international transfer window closed.
The Sounders cleared one of their three designated player slots earlier this week when midfielder Shalrie Joseph restructured his contract to no longer be counted as a designated player.
The team’s website also asked fans to arrive early for Saturday night’s game against FC Dallas for what the club called a “special presentation.”
At 7:26 p.m., a video chronicling Dempsey’s career highlights played on the CenturyLink Field video board and moments later he revealed his new rave green jersey.
“I think we’ll accomplish some great things here, so thank you,” Dempsey told the roaring fans.
Dempsey raved about Seattle when the city hosted the U.S. against Panama in a World Cup qualifier in June.
“It’s great to see the game is building and there are markets like this where people have so much passion for the game,” he said then.
A star for the U.S. national team, Dempsey wasn’t a regular in Andre Villas-Boas’ starting lineup with Tottenham.
Even so, his move is somewhat surprising because Tottenham could also lose forward Gareth Bale this offseason to Real Madrid.
One of the most successful Americans to play in England’s top league, Dempsey was first sold from the Revolution to Fulham in 2007.
Dempsey spent five years playing at Craven Cottage, where he scored 50 goals in 184 league appearances and became a fan favorite. Last year with Tottenham, Dempsey scored seven goals in 29 Premier League matches, scored three times in two FA Cup matches and had two more goals in 10 other games.
As his stock in Europe rose, so did Dempsey’s role on his national team. He’s played in eight games in 2013 for the United States and scored five times.
His next international appearance for the Americans will be his 100th, and he’s served as the U.S. captain most of this year when Landon Donovan was out.
Dempsey came to England as an attacking midfielder but has developed into a potent forward in recent seasons, starting up front for the U.S., too.
Outside of CenturyLink Field on Saturday, fans were already buzzing about Dempsey’s arrival prior to the official announcement.
At retailers around the stadium, custom Sounders jerseys with “Dempsey” across the back and No. 2 were being printed with regularity all afternoon in both versions of Seattle’s jersey.
During the pregame march near the stadium, fans chanted “Deuce upside the head, I said Deuce upside the head,” and carried head shots of Dempsey attached to sticks.
“Major League Soccer is thrilled to have Clint Dempsey, arguably one of the best players the United States has ever produced, return to the league to play for the Sounders,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.
“Clint could have played in any league throughout the world, and he chose MLS and the Sounders. Our vision is to become one of the best leagues in the world, and we look forward to Clint being a part of that legacy.”