Dempsey, Seattle to play at Blackbaud

Former Furman star Clint Dempsey, U.S. men’s national team captain, and the Seattle Sounders will compete in the 2014 Carolina Cup Challenge at Blackbaud Stadium.

The Seattle Sounders FC, Major League Soccer’s top drawing club, has one of the largest followings in the world.

The Sounders, who averaged more than 43,000 fans per game at CenturyLink Field a year ago, will join MLS teams D.C. United and Houston Dynamo and host Charleston Battery in the 11th annual Carolina Challenge Cup next February.

The week-long tournament will be held from Feb. 22 to March 1 at Daniel Island’s Blackbaud Stadium.

The Sounders FC roster includes United States men’s national team captain Clint Dempsey, a seven-year veteran of the English Premier League. Dempsey was voted the 2012 U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year, earning the honor for the second consecutive time and third time overall. Dempsey ranks second all-time with 35 career goals, ninth with 12 assists and 13th overall with 99 starts for the U.S team.

A product of Furman University, Dempsey made 213 appearances for Fulham and Tottenham in the English Premier League, setting the record for most goals scored (57) by an American in the EPL.

“Clint Dempsey is one of the top players in the world,” said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He’s one of the top strikers in the world and I know our fans will be thrilled to see him play in person.”

The Sounders roster also features former Charleston Battery players Osvaldo Alonso, Lamar Neagle and Alex Caskey.

Alonso, one of the top midfielders in the MLS, played for the Battery in 2008, scoring four goals and helping lead Charleston to the U.S. Open Cup finals against D.C. United. Nagle was the league MVP in 2010 after scoring 12 goals during the regular season and helped lead the Battery to the USL Second Division title.

“It’ll be a little strange to not see those guys in black-and-goal jerseys,” Anhaeuser said. “Osvaldo and Lamar were great players for us while they were here and they’re having fantastic careers in the MLS. It’ll be great to see them on our pitch again.”

Working behind the scenes for the past three years, the Battery final landed the Sounders in their annual preseason tournament.

“This has been in the works for several years,” said Charleston Battery president Andrew Bell. “Seattle has one of the largest followings in the world. They rival many European clubs in terms of brand name, and it’s a tremendous coup to get them to come to Charleston.”

By comparison, the top European leagues in England (34,601, Premier), Germany (45,179, Bundesliga) and Spain (30,275, La Liga), average between 30,000-45,000 fans per games. Seattle once drew more than 67,000 fans for a match.

Seattle’s roster also features U.S. national team members Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans.

D.C. United returns to the Carolina Challenge Cup for the seventh time in 2014. D.C. United has won the tournament on three previous occasions (2010, 2011, 2012). D.C. United defeated Real Salt Lake 1-0 on Oct. 1, claiming the 2013 U.S. Open Cup and cementing its status as the most successful club in United States professional soccer history, with 13 major domestic and international titles.

The Houston Dynamo have played in the Carolina Challenge Cup on three occasions, winning it in 2006 and 2007.