June 10, 2010


What are you looking at? (Luke Cyphers, June 14, 2010, ESPN The Magazine)

What's strange in Dempsey's case is that observers across the pond think he has absolutely nothing to answer for. British fans, coaches and media -- indeed soccer experts across Europe -- hold him in high regard. That's even more true after last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa, when Dempsey was named the tournament's third-best player, behind Brazilian superstars Kaká and Luís Fabiano.

Dempsey's stock kept soaring this past March. Just a week after returning from a two-month layoff to rehab a knee injury, he scored a wonder goal that propelled Fulham past legendary Italian club Juventus and into the quarterfinal of the Europa League, part of a run to the final that capped the greatest season in the Cottagers' 131-year history.

It may have been the greatest goal ever scored by an American in Europe. Funny thing is, it was Dempsey's second-most-important score for the club since he joined in 2007. His first Premiership goal, in a 1-0 victory in the season finale against Liverpool, saved Fulham's spot in the top league and earned the club some $60 million. "It was good for my first goal to mean so much," says Dempsey, who came to Fulham from MLS' New England Revolution on a $5 million transfer. "I paid back the club for my transfer fee. I wasn't in debt to them."

Come to think of it, Dempsey's almost always been money, whether playing for his club or his country. He was the only U.S. goal-scorer in the 2006 World Cup. In the Confederations Cup, he scored the crucial final goal in a 3-0 victory over Egypt that put the U.S. through to the semifinal. The next match, against Spain, a shocking 2-0 victory over the then-No. 1 team in the world, saw Dempsey assisting on Jozy Altidore's opening goal. Then he netted the backbreaking second goal, sneaking around noted defender Sergio Ramos, leaving the Real Madrid star in disbelief and the Spaniards' record-tying 35-match unbeaten streak in tatters. In the final against Brazil, Dempsey scored on a stylish sliding finish worthy of his opponents in the 3-2 loss.

His remarkable run didn't end in South Africa.Last September, during a tough World Cup qualifying stretch for the U.S., Dempsey scored a crucial equalizer in a 2-1 win against El Salvador, then helped set up Ricardo Clark's goal in a 1-0 road victory over Trinidad and Tobago. "I pride myself," he says, "on stepping up on big occasions."

And yet, a consistent chorus of media and fans continues to dress him down. In that Trinidad match, ESPN analyst John Harkes said Dempsey looked tired, even sick. Dempsey heard similar critiques during the Confederations Cup, especially after the U.S. lost its first two matches, to Italy and Brazil, and he hadn't scored in either. "People who aren't educated about the game are going to take whatever a commentator has to say as the complete truth," he says. "And that's not always the case. That's just their opinion."

But while Americans were busy lambasting him, the FIFA Technical Study Group, a selection of noted coaches and statistical analysts who critiqued every player in the Confederations Cup, lauded Dempsey's play -- singling out his effort by rewarding him with the Bronze Ball trophy. The irony is not lost on the player. "I was top three in the whole tournament in distance covered," he says. "You can question my effectiveness, but you can't question my heart and my effort."

Still, he manages to get past the attacks and welcomes fault-finding -- when it's backed by fact. "I'm respected by my teammates," he says. "And I'm respected by my coaches. That's why they keep me on the field. The criticism comes with the money we get paid."

His salary -- $3 million -- might mean more to Dempsey than to most in the Premier League. He likes working in England, but truthfully, he'd rather live in the States. "Off the pitch, the best thing about it is more money in your account," he says. "You go to Europe for the competition, for the soccer and for more financial stability for your family."

Dempsey had little financial security growing up in Nacogdoches, Texas. ("I'm from nowhere, man," he says.) His family lived in a trailer on his grandmother's property, while his dad worked on the railroad and his mom worked as a nurse.

In East Texas, soccer took a backseat to football and baseball. And in the Dempsey family, Clint took a backseat to his sister, Jennifer. Clint, four years younger, had shown enough promise to make a top youth soccer travel team in Dallas, three hours away. But Jennifer was a budding tennis star, winning tournaments around the region. Despite family sacrifices -- selling off a boat, forgoing vacations, skimping on new clothes -- the Dempseys couldn't afford to support both kids' sports dreams.

So Clint dropped out of the travel team so that Jennifer could pursue her tennis career. On the day before Thanksgiving, in 1995, the Dempseys' world changed forever. At 16, Jennifer collapsed and died of a brain aneurysm. "It was like a nightmare," Dempsey says. "Every day you'd wake up and say, 'Did that really happen?' "

The terrible saga explains a lot about Dempsey, and his fierce determination to fight his way up from Nacogdoches to a soccer scholarship at Furman, through MLS, to a spot on the national team and to success in England.

...he doesn't respond well when he's taken out of the attack.One would prefer that when he's asked to defend he do so as hard as he tries to score, but that's not who soccer players are.

Clint Dempsey's gunning for England, not a place in the history books (Simon Johnson, 10.06.10, Evening Standard)

Considering Dempsey is one of 10 players in the USA squad to have made an impact in the British game, it is perhaps surprising that many on these shores consider an opening win to be a full-gone conclusion.

Dempsey has impressed in a Fulham shirt ever since he joined from New England Revolution three years ago but then there are also creditable
performers like Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, West Ham defender Jonathan Spector and Glasgow Rangers duo Jonathan Spector and Maurice Edu.

The impact Landon Donovan made in an Everton shirt during a loan spell from LA Galaxy this season was also impressive, but the US team are
still not being taken too seriously among England supporters.

Dempsey is adamant the game on Saturday is not about proving them wrong though. He said: “Hopefully we will be able to change opinions but that's not the main goal — it is to do it for yourself and for your country, not for the people who don't believe in you."

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2010 5:29 AM
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