NATAL, Brazil -- It took Clint Dempsey 30 seconds to cement his legacy as the greatest player in U.S. World Cup history.
That's the indisputable fact following his gutsy performance during Monday's epic late win against Ghana, in which his crucial early goal set the stage for John Brooks' 86th-minute winner and made Dempsey the first American (and one of just 23 players all time) to score in three World Cups.
Why stop there, though? By the time this tournament is over, there's a chance that the 31-year-old Dempsey will have surpassed Landon Donovan as the greatest U.S. player of all time.
That's a bold statement, to be sure. But consider the following:
Dempsey has three goals in eight World Cup games, compared to Donovan's five in 12. One of Donovan's tallies came from the penalty spot, though -- converted after a foul Dempsey drew against Ghana in the second round four years ago in South Africa. And as much as Donovan, the longtime face of the national team, has been a clutch performer for the U.S. at the planet's biggest sporting event -- who can forget his last-gasp goal against Algeria four years ago, or his equally important strike versus Slovenia one game earlier -- it's impossible to look at his entire body of work without noting that he went AWOL for an entire tournament in 2006.
Dempsey, meanwhile, always seems to save his very best for the sport's grandest stage. He started out as a sub at Germany 2006 before emerging as the U.S. team's breakout player. He used performances against Italy and Ghana as a springboard to the Premier League, where he became the circuit's most accomplished American scorer before being lured back to MLS last year.
And it has been the same story in World Cup qualifying matches, where Dempsey's numbers (13 goals in 34 games) are better than Donovan's (13 in 40), despite the fact that Donovan served as the team's designated penalty kicker through most of his international career.
Let's be clear here: This is not a slight on Donovan, a truly magnificent player in his own right whose accomplishments and yes, his toughness, still don't get the respect they deserve from many at home or abroad. There's every chance that Donovan, controversially left of the U.S. roster by coach Jurgen Klinsmann last month, still will be sorely missed in Brazil.
But he's not here, and Dempsey is, and on Monday it was Deuce who inspired his teammates by fighting through a broken nose to stay in the match after fellow striker Jozy Altidore had been forced to leave in the first half with a hamstring strain.
"I had trouble breathing. I was coughing up blood, but kept going," he said.
That's the hard-as-nails Texan in a nutshell.
"He's somebody that we rely on to score, to play well, to be a presence for us," midfielder Michael Bradley -- Dempsey's likely successor as the U.S. captain -- said after the win. "Like always, he was so important."
He will continue to be. The Americans have at least two games left at this World Cup, and after Monday's victory, maybe more.
That means at least two more chances for Dempsey to put his team on his back and add to his own legacy, just like he did in the opener.
Three weeks from now, don't be surprised if Dempsey will be known as more than just the greatest World Cup player the U.S. has ever produced. Who would bet against him?