Is Clint Dempsey Too Good For U.S. Soccer?

The best soccer leagues in the world are in Europe and even Americans want to be good enough to play in them. Clint Dempsey accomplished that, playing in England's Premier League, but now he's coming home. In a move that surprised a lot of people, Dempsey has joined the Seattle Sounders. Audie Cornish talks to sportswriter Stefan Fatsis for more.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The best soccer leagues in the world are in Europe, and even Americans want to be good enough to play in them. Clint Dempsey accomplished that, playing in England's Premier League, but now he's coming home. In a move that surprised a lot of people, Dempsey has joined the Seattle Sounders. He's expected to debut for the team tomorrow night in Toronto.

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. And, Stefan, just how big a deal is this, Dempsey's return to the U.S. pro league, Major League Soccer?

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: It's a huge deal. Dempsey's had the best career of any American abroad who isn't a goalkeeper. He scored 57 goals in seven seasons in the Premier League, by far the most by an American. Last season, he played for Tottenham. He's a core player for the U.S. national team. At 30, he's still in or near his prime. And he's going to America's best soccer market. Seattle already averages 40,000 fans a game.

And for Dempsey's home debut, which is in a couple of weeks, on August 25th, the Sounders have sold out the NFL stadium in which they play more than 60,000 tickets.

CORNISH: Now, Stefan, I don't know if this is fair to ask, but if Dempsey is still pretty good, why did he leave England?

FATSIS: That'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, you know, athletes are people. Dempsey's got kids. He said he had been feeling the itch to come home. Part of this also was reality. He wasn't a big part of Tottenham's plans for the new season. It didn't look like other top clubs were interested in paying Tottenham the $9 million transfer fee that the team wanted. Major League Soccer, though, was willing to pay the fee and also pay Dempsey a record $32 million over four years.

CORNISH: All right. Meantime, the World Cup is next year in Brazil. And, of course, you know, Dempsey and his U.S. teammates are going to square off against some of the world's best talent. How does this move to Seattle affect his preparation?

FATSIS: Well, he's not going to be facing the kind of competition in practice and games that he would have in Europe. The interesting twist here is that Dempsey didn't consult with the U.S. national team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, about the move. Klinsmann said a few months ago that he had told Dempsey he hadn't done bleep in his career. There's always another level, Klinsmann said. MLS, definitely, is not that level.

But with the World Cup coming up, though, I would venture that when the Major League Soccer season ends in the fall, Dempsey and his fellow U.S.-based star Landon Donovan will go back to England on loan to play for a team and prepare for Brazil.

CORNISH: OK. Let's move on from Dempsey to his old league. It looks like it's getting heavy treatment on television here from NBC Sports. They actually tapped outgoing "Saturday Night Live" star Jason Sudeikis for a promo where he's like impersonating an American football coach hired to coach in the Premier League.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBC SPORTS PROMO)

JASON SUDEIKIS: (as Coach Lasso) Any team I coach, they're going to play hard for all four quarters. OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Two halves.

SUDEIKIS: (as Coach Lasso) What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Two halves.

SUDEIKIS: (as Coach Lasso) OK. Halves. We're going to play hard for two halves. And we're going to play till there's a winner and there's a loser.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Or a tie.

SUDEIKIS: (as Coach Lasso) What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) A tie.

SUDEIKIS: (as Coach Lasso) OK. Till there's a winner, a loser or a tie. You can tie. Yeah. Do we have any goals this season? Absolutely. We're going to win a lot of games. We're going to get in the playoffs.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) There's no playoffs.

SUDEIKIS: (as Coach Lasso) There's no playoffs? Again, my job just got a lot easier. Ties and no playoffs. Why do you even do this?

(LAUGHTER)

FATSIS: I watched it for about 10 times, and I still laugh. Sudeikis is impersonating Ted Lasso. He's hired to coach Tottenham. He's got the tight football coach pants, the '70s mustache. He screams at players. It is a great spoof by NBC. The network is paying 250 million over three years to show the Premier League. They're going to show every game, 380 per season, on several networks and online. It is another sign of the maturation of the sport here.

CORNISH: Stefan, thanks so much for talking with us.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis impersonated an American football player for his book "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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