Clint Dempsey is no MLS prodigal son; something to consider ...

Clint Dempsey celebrates last week against Aston Villa.

Clint Dempsey says he wants to finish his career in Europe. Who could blame him?

He’s making serious bank. He’s coping at the highest level. Clubs higher along the food chain are sniffing around, wondering if the time is right for a “promotion” to a snazzier address.

He says in Martin Roger's piece that finishing in MLS, as other home-grown talent has been known to do, just isn’t in the plans.

And again, who could blame him?

But it did get me to thinking. The MLS today is so much better than the MLS he left just a few short years ago. When “Big Tex” left MLS for Craven Cottage in 2006, there were just 12 teams in MLS. There were just four dedicated soccer stadiums.

And how about this: Toronto and Seattle didn’t exist. That’s a lot of energy, tons of fan enthusiasm, a whole bunch of passion that was still sitting on the sidelines.

Let’s say Brad Friedel decides to return later this year. The MLS he finds (wildly different from the one he left in 1997) looks like this: There are 18 teams, playing far more matches. The Galaxy will play more than 40 competitive contests this year, for instance.

Twelve clubs will play in dedicated soccer stadiums. Two more won’t play in actual soccer specific stadiums, but expansion Vancouver and the Seattle Sounders certainly are in great situations. Today, only four teams find themselves in serious need of a stadium-situation upgrade. One of them, Houston, is on it, having just broken ground on its new grounds.

The MLS rosters are bigger. There will be actual reserve team matches. More clubs have dedicated practice facilities. There are real stars (David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, etc.) who amp up the fervor and treat it like a real league – not like a vacation destination as some big names of MLS past. Well, OK. Maybe not Beckham. But he’s pretty serious about MLS when he does manage to show up.

It really is a better place today than just five years ago when Dempsey made the leap overseas. Again, I don’t see any reason why he should consider a move back. Not right now. But I do think the MLS he remembers no longer exists.

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