Clint Dempsey's arrival may do many great things for the Seattle Sounders: He is a creative force with the ball at his feet. He earns a ton of free kicks. He can score, and attacks the defense and keeper with ferocity. He should fill the need for creativity just behind the strikers - a hole that has arguably existed throughout the side's 4 1/2 years in MLS.
I think there is one more way Dempsey helps the Sounders though, one that hasn't been talked about. I think adding Dempsey addresses a Sounders FC deficiency - top-quality American starters.
The 1998 champion Chicago Fire is the only team in MLS Cup Final history to start fewer than six American-born players. They started five. MLS Cup winners average 7.88 American-born starters over the league's 17-year history.
That average has not been decreasing as MLS has matured. Last year the Galaxy started seven American-born players - Landon Donovan, Mike Magee, Todd Dunivant, Todd Meyer, Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin and Josh Saunders.
The 2011 champion Galaxy started eight - with AJ DeLaGarza instead of Meyer and Adam Cristman at forward. The 2010 champion Rapids also started eight - Matt Pickens, Drew Moor, Marvel Wynne, Anthony Wallace, Brian Mullan, Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz and Conor Casey.
Field play for the Sounders FC has almost always been led by such foreigners as Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani, Mauro Rosales, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and Ozzie Alonso. Alonso is now a citizen, of course.
There have been quality American-born Sounders FC players. Jeff Parke was the team's best defender for most of the years he wore rave green. Brad Evans is a star with such subtle quality often even some Sounders supporters don't realize what a difference he makes. Kasey Keller was among the best keepers in the league even at his advanced age.
The problem has never been that the Sounders FC don't have a couple quality American soccer players. The problem has always been they don't have enough top-quality, starting-11-worthy American soccer players.
It is true MLS rules allow a player with a green card to not be considered an "international" on a roster, and the Sounders have been very successful at helping players get green cards. But it simply is not good enough to have Americans as your bench players or your young players on minimum salary learning the game. MLS history says you must field a majority of Americans in your starting 11 to win a title.
The Sounders started to turn the corner on this issue in 2012, in my opinion. The arrival of Eddie Johnson was a big step forward. Compare Johnson to the other American-born players who have played striker for the Sounders - Nate Jaqua, Mike Fucito, David Estrada, even the beloved Roger Levesque. There is a wide gulf in talent.
Clint Dempsey's arrival puts the Sounders in rare air for an American soccer league intent on forwarding the development of American players. He is arguably the best American field player in the world today, and clearly the finest over the past five years.
The quality of Americans on the pitch has never been higher for Sounders FC: Three American Sounders starters seem likely to be on the USA roster for the 2014 World Cup. That's a pretty strong testament to the quality of American players the Sounders now field, and another reason to believe the signing of Clint Dempsey makes an MLS Cup title more likely.