TUKWILA – An idea that seemed outlandish a year ago now is happening.
Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, two titans of U.S. Soccer, will take the field in a 1:30 p.m. game Saturday at CenturyLink Field — not with the national team, not in an international friendly, but for a nationally (and internationally) televised game between Sounders FC and Toronto.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, when asked if he could have envisioned such a scenario 12 months ago, answered: “In MLS, I would’ve said that’s probably not going to happen.”
Even the most optimistic fan, it seems, couldn’t have projected the return of two American stalwarts from established teams in Europe while in their prime — and in a World Cup year, no less. Saturday is proof, then, that MLS fantasy is becoming reality. For Schmid, the past several months since Dempsey’s signing in August have been a turning point for a league with ambitions of being among the world’s elite.
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“We’ll see how this whole thing plays out, but years down the line people are going to look back on 2013 with Clint’s return and 2014 with Bradley coming back as maybe a time-point when the league changed a little bit in its direction,” Schmid said.
Toronto FC, which was idle in Week 1, begins its eighth season with a reworked front office and plenty of new stars, including English forward Jermain Defoe and Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar, another two expected to be featured in the World Cup this summer.
The centerpiece, though, of TFC’s sensational offseason was the multimillion-dollar acquisition of Bradley, a 26-year-old midfielder from New Jersey who arrives via one of the top teams in Italy, AS Roma, following time in the top leagues of England, Germany and Holland.
Bradley, who signed in January, said he definitely paid attention to Dempsey’s stateside return but had his own motivations to come back to MLS, where he began his pro career at 16 years old with the MetroStars. Bradley and Dempsey were actually on the same team at the 2004 MLS combine.
Playing time at Roma had become scarce, and Bradley had come to the realization that a new challenge was needed.
“Six months out from a World Cup, it was important for me now to get to a place where they really wanted me, to get to a club where they could see what I was all about, and where I was going to play a really important role,” Bradley said in a conference call this week. “For me, the club that was ready to do anything and everything to make it all happen was Toronto FC.”
Dempsey, who didn’t talk to Bradley about the move, was happy to see the trend of stars coming to MLS as well as Americans being rewarded with big contracts.
“That’s what you want,” Dempsey said. “You want this to be the best league as possible, because it’s where you’re from.”
And it won’t stop here, for either returning U.S. internationals or world-class foreign talent. Seattle midfielder Brad Evans particularly expects a boon for MLS after the World Cup, a natural transition point for players around the globe.
“We’re only going to grow,” Evans said. “I don’t think it’s going to regress at any time, and it is fun to be a part of, for sure.”
• Kickoff was originally scheduled for 7 p.m.
• Seattle forward/midfielder Tristan Bowen (quadriceps) will not play, and defender Leo Gonzalez (groin) is likely to miss his second consecutive game. For Toronto, designated player Gilberto (hip) did not travel.
• The game will air locally on Channel 13 and nationally on NBC Sports Network. Stations in Canada, France and England also will broadcast the game.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184
On Twitter @joshuamayers