“He tries shit.”
That is what former USMNT coach Bruce Arena once famously said of Clint Dempsey, who announced his retirement today, and it is stands today as a fitting epitaph for a player who rose seemingly from nowhere to the pinnacle of American soccer.
Because with Dempsey it has never been just about the numbers. Oh, the numbers are there for the son of Nacogdoches, Texas. 57 goals for the United States Men’s National Team, tied with Landon Donovan for first all-time on the men’s side of the ledger.
And his 57 goals are the most ever by an American in the English Premier League, his four career World Cup goals second in the modern era to his teammate and rival Landon Donovan, and with goals in the 2006, 2010, and 2014 Cups’, Dempsey is the first and so far, only American to score in three consecutive Mundials.
But Arena was on to something, Dempsey, or Deuce is about much more than numbers. Drafted eighth by the New England Revolution out of Furman College in his native Texas, the box to box midfielder won MLS Rookie of the Year and quickly showed the flair and goalscoring nous that would lead Dempsey on a tour of the pitch from midfield to winger to second forward right on up to striker and just as quickly across the Atlantic to Fulham of the Premier League, and from the fringes of the national team to World Cup captain.
Dempsey seemed to achieve all of this with a combination of swagger unseen in most American players, and effort that said this ball is mine while occasionally blurring the line between hard and dirty.
Every year it seemed that Fulham would bring in a new coach and that Dempsey, relegated to the bench, would have to regain his place in the Cottagers lineup.
It was a challenge that Deuce was always up for and Fulham fans noticed and appreciated the American’s drive, twice honoring Dempsey as the club’s Player of the Year.
Dempsey displayed a gift for coming up with big goals, too. His first goal for Fulham saved the Thamesmen from relegation, and Dempsey’s long-range blast versus Juventus in the Europa League has been called the biggest goal in Fulham history.
After a short stint with Tottenham Hotspur, Dempsey came home to MLS, signing a huge contract with the Seattle Sounders off of a $9 million transfer.
Although slowed by injuries Deuce won an MLS Cup with the Sounders and his time playing with Obafemi Martins was a spectacle to behold.
Dempsey’s final season with both Seattle and the USMNT sputtered to something of an anticlimactic end but Dempsey leaves the stage with his place in American soccer secure.
Was Dempsey the best American player ever, or does the nod go to Donovan? The two were so different yet they are hard to separate.
On Dempsey’s side of the ledger is his success outside of the cozy confines of Major League Soccer. While Donovan was tarred, unfairly I believe, with the nickname Landycakes as a slur on his toughness, no one ever questioned Dempsey on that score.
Dempsey lacked Donovan’s flat-out speed and while Donovan was more of a playmaker than Dempsey the two shared a flair for the dramatic.
But today is about Clint Dempsey, a humble, quiet, swaggering, rapping Texan, a homebody who proved his mettle on the pitches of England and on the World Cup stage.
Never the golden boy, never the chosen one but also never afraid, no, USMNT legend Clint Dempsey was never afraid “to try shit.”