Clint Dempsey's MLS Return Highlights League's Continued Improvement

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Clint Dempsey's MLS Return Highlights League's Continued Improvement
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USMNT star Clint Dempsey is returning to MLS competition after becoming the first American to tally 50 goals in the English Premier League.

Clint Dempsey is one of America's best soccer players, and the fact that he is coming back to the MLS speaks volumes about the league's continued improvement.

Dempsey was recently announced as the newest signing for the Seattle Sounders, who bought the midfielder's rights from Tottenham of the English Premier League.

Brooks Peck of Yahoo Sports compared it to winning the lottery.

"MLS as a whole and Seattle Sounders fans in particular won the lottery with a ticket they didn't know they bought when Dempsey was announced as the club's newest and biggest signing."

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The Seattle Sounders officially introduced Dempsey earlier this week. Dempsey's first home game for the team will be August 25, and the Sounders have already sold 67,000 tickets.

It wasn't exactly the Powerball jackpot, but Dempsey's return is a very big deal for the league.

Having one of the U.S. Men's National Team's biggest stars back on American soil is a boon for the league and for American soccer fans.

Too many of America's best players are spending their club seasons across the pond in Europe. Jozy Altidore, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley are among the American stars currently making a living overseas. Goalkeeper Tim Howard has also spent the past 10 years in the English Premier League, where he is currently the starting keeper for Everton.

Dempsey decided to buck the trend, leaving some to question his decision. In an interview on NPR earlier this week, Stefan Fatsis questioned Dempsey's decision.

"It's a fair question, and it's one that a lot of soccer fans, myself included, have been debating. There's this feeling of disappointment that our best player won't be showing the world how good Americans can be."

But Dempsey's return to America should not be viewed as a failure, but as a symbol of Major League Soccer's growing success.

On May 6, 2012, Clint Dempsey became the first American to score 50 EPL goals with this beautiful free kick.

Last May, Dempsey became the first American-born player to record 50 career goals in the English Premier League. He ends his EPL career with 57 goals in 179 appearances, according to soccerbase.com.

Dempsey had two more years remaining on his contract with Tottenham of the EPL. He could have easily stayed in England and continued to build upon his record-setting legacy there, but his decision to return to the United States speaks volumes about the league's continued improvement, something Dempsey touched on in his his press conference (full video can be found at SeattleTimes.com).

"I want to come back when I'm in my prime and not past it to help continue the growth of this league...The league is changing. It is growing. Fans are coming to the games. The quality of soccer on the field is better."

After floundering financially in its early years, Major League Soccer is in a period of growth, both in terms of fans and credibility.

The MLS has attracted foreign stars like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and most recently, Robbie Keene to continue their club careers here in the States. All three were major stars in Europe, and each of their signings gave added gravitas to the league.

As big as those signings were, Dempsey's return is even bigger.

Bringing America's best export back to the league where he got his start does more for the league's standing than any of those other signings because it shows that the MLS is not just a stepping stone to Europe for American players.

Make no mistake, MLS will never be the English Premier League. It will never be on the same level as the German Budesliga, Italian Serie A or Spanish La Liga.

But as Clint Dempsey showed, Major League Soccer can be more than a stepping stone. It can be a destination.

George Frey/Getty Images
The Seattle Sounders averaged more than 43,000 fans per game last season, helping the league set an all-time attendance mark of more than 6 million.

Qwest Stadium in Seattle will be packed with 67,000 fans for Dempsey's home debut on August 25, according to Steve Davis of NBC Sports' Pro Soccer Talk.

The Sounders themselves are a symbol of the league's continued growth. In its debut season in 2009, Seattle led the league in attendance, averaging 30,942, according to the Sounder At Heart blog. It has continued to grow in the four years since, peaking at 43,144 last year.

That helped the league set an all-time record last season, according to the MLS website, averaging 18,807 fans per game with more than 6 million in total attendance. 

According to the same article, MLS beat out France's Ligue 1, the Chinese Super League and the Dutch Eredivisie to record the seventh-highest attendance for soccer leagues worldwide.

The growth can continue if America's top players choose the MLS as their home.

Signing Dempsey is a great start. He offers instant name recognition from his time on the Men's National Team and should provide a boost in ticket sales wherever the Sounders go the rest of this year.

Major League Soccer has come a long way since its infancy. Five years ago a player like Dempsey would have never considered a return to MLS.

But with the strides the league has made in attendance and international standing, Dempsey may be the first of many great Americans to choose to play their home games on American soil.

The MLS is not a joke any more. It is a truly a Division 1 league, one that continues to improve every year, and one that every American kid should aspire to play in.

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