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Real Salt Lake: Dempsey a game-changer for Sounders, MLS

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Clint Dempsey, left, the newest member of the Seattle Sounders FC MLS soccer team, trains for the first time with the team, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, in Tukwila, Wash. At right is Andy Rose. The Sounders will face Toronto FC on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By Aaron Falk

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Sep 12 2013 05:17PM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:34PM

Seattle • Clint Dempsey’s return to Major League Soccer came with plenty of fanfare — and a nice paycheck.

The U.S. men’s national team captain, who returned to the states from England earlier this summer, will make more than $5 million a season playing for the Seattle Sounders.

Doesn’t sound like much for a professional athlete?

Consider this: based on the salary figures made available by the MLS Players’ Union, Dempsey could cover all of Real Salt Lake’s payroll and still pocket a cool million.

Seattle and RSL will face off Friday night in what has to be the biggest game of the season for both teams: a crowd of 50,000-plus will be on hand for a nationally-televised showdown between the league’s top two teams. And even though RSL sits atop the standings, Jason Kreis feels like his team can still play the underdog card.

"There’s no doubt about it," he said. "On paper, Seattle is a better team than us, for sure. On paper and with their bank accounts, they’re better than us. But we’ll see. You have to put that performance on the field, and you have to show it over 90 minutes. The answer will come Friday."

Seattle and RSL have developed a serious rivalry over the years, with the Sounders bouncing RSL from last year’s playoffs and RSL holding a 2-0-0 advantage over Seattle this year.

This time around, however, there will be a couple of major differences from the teams’ first two meetings of the year: Dempsey and the venue.

"They were a good team before; it was a difficult place to play before," said defender Tony Beltran. "Now they sign arguably the best international player of our time. Now they’re even more dangerous."

But Beltran said Salt Lake relishes the chance to play giant killer.

"That’s always going to be the case," he said. "We’re the smallest market in the league. But we’re on top of the league, so it doesn’t matter. They can spend however much money they want, but we’ve got quality players that can play with them. Put anybody out there and I’ll put our team up against them."

Seattle won’t look too different tactically because of its major addition, but having Dempsey on the field has paid dividends for the Sounders. After a tough start to the 2013 campaign, Seattle has won seven of its last eight league games and sits within two points of RSL — with a pair of games in hand.

RSL captain Kyle Beckerman will keep an eye on the former Fulham and Tottenham attacker, but said the Sounders have always had dangerous players to worry about.

"They have an awesome player, but they’ve always had awesome players," he said. "I guess it’s just a testament to the team and what we’ve been building here that we can do it on a budget and go against the Goliaths. We’ll just try to do the same thing and maybe we’ll get some money somewhere and go get us a Dempsey."

The Sounders will also have a major home-field advantage this go around.

The mass of rave green at CenturyLink Field can be overwhelming. The Sounders dwarf the rest of Major League Soccer in attendance, averaging better than 42,000 a game, but Friday night’s match will be bigger than most. Seattle has opened up the entire stadium to fans, meaning some 60,000 people could be on hand to watch.

"If you can’t get up for this one," said RSL defender Chris Wingert, "you probably don’t have a pulse."

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