TUKWILA — Clint Dempsey was blown away by what he saw when he came to Seattle with the U.S. national team earlier this summer. And he was amazed by the atmosphere when he was introduced at CenturyLink Field as the Sounders new marquee acquisition prior to the Aug. 3 game against Dallas.
None of that, however, will match what Dempsey is about to experience when he makes his home debut Sunday. Instead of 40,000 or so fans in the stadium, the Sounders will play to a sellout crowd that rivals those that fill CenturyLink for Seahawks games. And not only is Dempsey, one of the biggest signings in league history, going to make his home debut in a full house, he’ll do it against his new team’s biggest rival, the Portland Timbers.
“Even the game against Dallas where the presentation was — that was incredible, that was like a movie,” Dempsey said. “I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like when the whole stadium is completely packed and they’re behind us. We’ll feed off that energy and we’ll make sure we give everything we have to let them go home happy.”
Dempsey, Seattle’s stunning midseason addition who had been playing for Tottenham, knows plenty about big rivalry games having played for two teams in the English Premier League and in big games for the national team, so he’ll hardly be overwhelmed by the moment, but he still knows his first game at home will be special.
“I’m excited to be here, they get 40,000-plus fans at each game,” he said. “Look at the game this weekend, I think it’s 67-68,000, so yeah, it’s huge here. It’s one of the top crowds in the world. … I’m excited about playing here and hopefully we can do something special.”
And Dempsey’s first game in Seattle is big for more reasons than just the fact that he’s playing here for the first time as a Sounder. The Sounders are currently battling for their playoff lives, and Portland, a team that had struggled its first two years in the league, has turned itself into one of Major League Soccer’s best teams. That’s why Dempsey, one of the highest-paid players in league history, will feel pressure to perform not just because he’s making his home debut, but because his team really needs it.
“You always want to get goals or get an assist or be part of a play that leads to a goal,” he said. “You need to make sure you’re playing well — connecting passes, creating chances. When you’re doing that, it will eventually come, so you don’t stress too much. If you’re not creating chances, that’s when you start to worry. We created chances last game — I should have scored last game — but I’m happy that we’re getting good looks and it’s just a matter of time.”
Dempsey made his Sounders debut two weeks ago coming off the bench in a victory in Toronto, then he started last weekend’s loss in Houston. It’s evident to anyone watching that Dempsey plays at a level that is almost never seen in MLS, but considering he was only in preseason training with Tottenham when Seattle signed him, he’s still not at his best.
“He’s getting there,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s still trying to get his form. He’s still a little bit in preseason. He and I talked about that today a little bit.
“I said I don’t want him to put too much pressure on himself. He puts pressure on himself enough as it is. I just want him to relax and play, and the goals and assists will come. I think he’s still probably two, three, four games away from getting to the point where I’d say he’s sharp.”
Even if Dempsey is still a few games away from being sharp, he’s still reminding his teammates and coaches daily why he is considered one of the best players this country has ever produced.
“He made a move today at practice where I was like, ‘Whoa, that was different. I didn’t expect that.’” Schmid said. “Just beat a guy cleanly. … He’s got very, very quick feet. What he’s able to get out of sometimes is pretty amazing.”
Sounders add midfielder
The Sounders signed Blair Gavin Wednesday, adding to their roster the 24-year-old midfielder who has been training with the team for the past few weeks. Gavin, who played at the Univeristy of Akron — the same program that produced Seattle’s Steve Zakuani and DeAndre Yedlin — was the 10th pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. He appeared in 43 games with Chivas USA, making 31 starts, then went to New England midway through last season and appeared in two games for the Revolution.
“Blair has been training with us for a few weeks and we are very happy to add him to our group,” Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson said in a press release. “He is a thinker on the field and has good technical ability. He has enough MLS experience to help us down the stretch.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.