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Originally published August 5, 2013 at 8:07 PM | Page modified August 6, 2013 at 9:16 PM

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Clint Dempsey, Sounders enjoy mountain-moving day

Sounders FC set its ever-rising standard a little bit higher with the belief-defying signing of Dempsey.

Times staff columnist

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Here now is Clint Dempsey — yes, that Clint Dempsey (has it sunk in yet?) — telling his version of the Story That Never Gets Old.

In June, he came to Seattle with the United States men’s national team for a World Cup qualifier against Panama, and he marveled over what has become the nation’s best soccer city. It wasn’t just the 40,847 fans who attended the match. As Dempsey roamed the city, he saw bars full of people watching a Sounders FC game on television. He witnessed the phenomenon of Seattle’s connection with his sport and remarked, “I never thought I’d see the day.”

Two months later, he’s the rare superstar who has chosen to play for a Seattle sports team.

And while his stunning transfer from Tottenham of the English Premier League to the Sounders was about more than a single intoxicating event, the statement about Seattle’s relevance and clout in the soccer world is still clear and resounding.

The Story that Never Gets Old, aka the Sounders’ wild success as an infant franchise, just added another chapter to its preposterously riveting narrative.

You never thought you’d see the day that a startup Major League Soccer franchise won three straight U.S. Open Cups and made the playoffs in its first four years. You never thought you’d see the day that a startup led the league in attendance four straight years and topped the 40,000 mark in average attendance. You never thought you’d see the day that a startup would triumph in pursuit of a talent like Obafemi Martins, a top-tier player in a top European league.

But even though the Sounders have made you see many improbable days, this Dempsey deal is their most eye-popping, belief-defying achievement. It is a landmark moment for both the Sounders and all of MLS.

“I think that it makes a huge statement to the league,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “The ability to bring a player like Clint at the time of his career that he’s in right now, where he’s still in his prime, and the commitment that the league made to make that happen is a step forward. We’ve always been considered, and still are to some extent, a selling league — a league where players are going to develop and then move on to maybe more lucrative pastures, and that’s something that’s still going to go on. But by bringing a player in like Clint, I think that a statement has been made, so we’re ready to move onto the next level. We’re moving forward, and we’re going to be more competitive on a day-to-day basis.”

Dempsey and his agent, the Sounders, the MLS league office and Tottenham completed a complicated deal that involved an assurance that the league would place Dempsey in his preferred city, a reported $9 million transfer fee, the negotiation of a 3 ½ year, $24 million contract that keeps Dempsey as the highest-paid American soccer player in history and the reworking of Shalrie Joseph’s contract to create a designated-player slot for Dempsey.

“They moved mountains,” Dempsey said of the process.

Somehow, it took less than three weeks to nudge that mountain, and for that, you must credit the desire of all parties to make it happen, including a Sounders ownership group led by Joe Roth. Ever since Roth joined the league, he has had the audacity to declare he wants to make the Sounders an internationally renowned team, not just the king of the MLS. At every critical point along this five-year journey, he has lived up to his big talk.

Now, the fun begins.

Not the pressure. The fun.

The pressure has always been there for the Sounders because, like Roth, the entire organization hasn’t been shy about its ambition. Acquiring Dempsey doesn’t put a target on the Sounders’ backs as much as it gives them the talent to turn their aspirations into legitimate expectations.

“You can’t help the growth of the game if you don’t perform,” the 30-year-old Dempsey said. “I understand there’s a lot of pressure on me to succeed. There are a lot of expectations that others have on me, but also the expectations I put on myself.

“When I decided to come back to this league, I wanted to make an impact. I want to do a good job. I don’t want to come and not be able to make a difference in games. I want to win things. I’m still going to work as hard as ever to make sure my game is at the highest level possible, and I’m doing everything I can to help the team win.”

As dissimilar as the two news items are, it’s nonetheless tempting to recognize that Dempsey, Seattle’s newest sports superstar, held his introductory news conference on the same day that Alex Rodriguez, a former Seattle superstar, received the longest performance-enhancing drugs ban in Major League Baseball history.

It seems ancient, but there was once a time when losing A-Rod to greed defined and embittered this city. Now, A-Rod is the undisputed loser, and we’re witnessing a franchise thriving so much that a marquee player leaps on the bandwagon.

Can you see the day now?

It’s here. It’s real.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

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