His career began with a bang at the old Giants Stadium, and from that moment forward Clint Dempsey‘s time as a professional only skyrocketed him into U.S. Men’s National Team stardom.
[ MORE: Dempsey announces retirement after 15-year career ]
When Dempsey (21 years old at the time) scored his first Major League Soccer goal back in 2004 against the then-New York/New Jersey MetroStars, it was only a sign of things to come.
At this time, it was my first time seeing Dempsey in person during his rookie season, and with the falling side-volley finish that he put past MetroStars goalkeeper Jonny Walker it was inevitable that the Texas-born goalscorer was headed for greatness.
Dempsey’s career has had many layers since that chilly night in East Rutherford, and while his humble beginnings are a large part of the player that grew on U.S. soccer fans for the better part of 15 years, that doesn’t tell the whole story of Dempsey.
He was the ultimate mix of skill and passion, being able to facilitate goals for his teammates, while being even more well known for scoring some of the most exquisite chances of his own.
Although the accolades that he has accumulated throughout the years are remarkable, Dempsey’s time in MLS and Europe, as well as with the USMNT, have been about singular moments that have made him the greatest player in U.S. Soccer history.
It was his goal against England in the 2010 World Cup that gave the Americans life in their group-stage opener.
It was goals against Ghana and Portugal during the 2014 World Cup that led to him becoming the first American to score in three separate World Cups.
Dempsey’s career was about the turmoil and drive for success, even in negative moments, like the 2015 U.S. Open Cup, which ultimately cost him captaincy of the USMNT.
In a moment where a lot of players would simply lay down and accept failure, Dempsey guided the U.S. to fourth in the Copa America Centenario, the first time the tournament was held on American soil.
On the club level, the 35-year-old wasn’t the first American player to move to Europe, and won’t be the last, but Dempsey dared to be great in England with the likes of Fulham and Tottenham, and succeeded at some of the highest levels and improved on a year-to-year basis with the clubs.
He scored against the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League, while dazzling against European giants Juventus in the UEFA Europa League with one of the more audaciously brilliant goals any player could execute.
And when he was done lighting up Europe, Dempsey came back to MLS despite criticism over the timing of the move.
His time with the Seattle Sounders not only put the club on the map as one of the hotbeds for soccer in America, with an organization that regularly outdraws almost every other MLS city, but Dempsey helped deliver the team their first MLS Cup in 2016, despite battling a heart condition.
It was that heart ailment that led to the final chapter of his playing career, but once again, even after Dempsey was seemingly down for the count, he rose again in 2017 when he scored 12 goals and guided the Sounders back to MLS Cup, only to fall to a star-studded Toronto FC.
Dempsey won’t be the last great American soccer player. That’s for certain, especially with Christian Pulisic and others on the come up as they aim to revive the USMNT.
However, in a time where he shared the pitch with Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride and many others, Dempsey was the best USMNT player of his generation.Follow @MattReedFutbol