All the trappings of a major event were there. The reserved room in the stadium. The catered lunch. The dais from which the newsmakers spoke. The packed audience. The rolling cameras and clicking shutters. For the first time in at least several years, the Seattle Sounders held a right proper press conference.
A new era has begun.
The subject was, of course, Clint Dempsey's signing. No player in Sounders history has commanded the attention of the man affectionately called "Deuce." He's one of the top goalscorers in United States national team history, the highest scoring American in English Premier League history and the biggest name player to come to MLS so close to the peak of their career. This was legitimately a big deal.
But there was also an inescapable sense that part of this new era is that excuses will no longer suffice. Whether or not they literally paid the transfer fee themselves, Sounders ownership has plunked down a massive chunk of change on this team. If reports are to be believed, this year's team will end up costing somewhere in the neighborhood $20 million once Dempsey's salary and Obafemi Martins' transfer fee/signing bonus are factored into the equation.
This team now has its own national team captain (Dempsey), a scorer who has proven his worth in virtually every major league around the world (Martins), a defender with a Champions League medal (Djimi Traore) and other players who have represented their country in massive games (Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, to name two).
It's surely unfair to say the Sounders absolutely have to win MLS Cup this year, but the reality is that anything less than getting to the final will be seen as a massive disappointment.
To their credit, the speakers at Monday's press conference seemed to understand that.
Dempsey spoke openly about how his efforts to raise the profile of MLS would be largely in vain if he doesn't actually perform at a world-class level. He insinuated that part of why he was willing to forgo a chance at making Champions League was because he felt pursuit of a MLS Cup would provide similar motivation and challenge as he prepares for next summer's World Cup.
"When I decided to come back to this league, I want to come and make an impact," Dempsey said. "I want to do a good job. I don't want to come and be passive 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."
Although Sounders GM and part owner Adrian Hanauer didn't put it this bluntly at the press conference, he did tell the guys on ExtraTime Radio that head coach Sigi Schmid and Co. are absolutely expected to win with this group.
"I can go on vacation now," Hanauer said on the podcast. "If we can't win with this group now, we got some issues."
Schmid clearly appreciates all this, even if he was understandably reluctant to literally say his job might depend on winning a MLS Cup. Schmid has been entrusted with what might be the most talented MLS side in history. Sure, there are some holes, but every MLS team has holes. Sure, this might not be the ideal time to work in a new player, but it's not the worst either. Sure, the playoffs are a crapshoot, but it certainly helps when you get to load the dice a little.
"We felt even before we signed Clint, we felt we were good enough to make the playoffs and we felt we had enough here that we could make a run at MLS Cup and win MLS Cup," Schmid said. "Now we feel we have a little more here."
And while there has been much talk about the potential increase in ticket and shirt sales and how ultimately this promises to be the kind of move to raise the Sounders' profile even bigger than it already is, once you got through all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the event, there was an unwavering sense that Dempsey's signing was about the business of making this team as good as it possibly could be on the field.
"This is for soccer," Hanauer said. "This is to win a championship, raise the profile domestically, globally, and pay our fans back for their support."
Now, it's time to start doing just that.