Clint Dempsey personified U.S. soccer's dream: developing creative players with attitude, swagger
The end has finally come for the man they call "Deuce".
Clint Dempsey, arguably the greatest player the U.S. has ever produced, announced on Wednesday that he has retired from professional soccer, effective immediately.
"After a lot of thought, my family and I have decided that this is the right time for me to step away from the game," said Dempsey. "I'd like to thank all of the teammates, coaches and support staff that I've worked with throughout my career. It has always been my dream to make it as a pro. I'm grateful to have been on this ride. I would like to thank all of the fans who have supported me throughout my career with the New England Revolution, Fulham, Tottenham, Seattle Sounders and the U.S. men's national team. Y'all have always made me feel at home, and it is something that I will always remember."
The memories of his exploits will be etched in the minds of those who watched him. Dempsey's career ends with 57 international goals, tied with Landon Donovan for the most in U.S. men's national team history. He bagged another 154 at club level.
But Dempsey's legacy will go well beyond numbers. In a country where the hyper-regimented aspects of player development are bemoaned, Dempsey was every bit a product of the pickup games he played in his youth back in his hometown of Nacogdoches, Texas. Whenever Dempsey took the field, he offered the possibility -- and at times the reality and pure joy -- of the unexpected, a rarity from a U.S. player. As former U.S. manager Bruce Arena so eloquently put it, Dempsey's had the ability to "try s---." His delightful chip in the Europa League round of 16 for Fulham against Juventus, a goal that helped propel the Cottagers on their way to the 2010 final, is the most notable example.
Sure, other U.S. players have enjoyed stellar careers both at home and abroad, but Dempsey's ability and style spoke to the broader dreams for the sport in this country: that the U.S. could produce a creative player with attitude and swagger, one who could compete at the highest echelons of the sport. His "Deuce face" that he trotted out during a World Cup qualifying against Jamaica back in 2012 is the stuff of legend.
And no matter how many times Dempsey was written off, he would rise up to the top again. For all of the goals Dempsey scored in the Premier League, it's worth remembering that just about every manager he played for with either Fulham or Tottenham consigned him to the reserves at one point, only for him to prove himself again and again.
"I've always been a competitive person, wanted to be on the field," said Dempsey prior to a home World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago last year. "Yeah, it was frustrating when the managers would change, you'd go to the bench and try to work your way back into the team. But it makes you stronger."
With numerous U.S. players getting chewed up by the meat grinder that is the top leagues in Europe, the fans loved him for that resilience. It allowed the broader U.S. soccer community to puff its chest out a bit, and say, "See? We can produce a player like Clint."
Dempsey showed his fortitude in other ways, as well. The loss of his sister, Jennifer, to a brain aneurysm when he was just 12 fueled his competitive fire, and made him play every game like it was his last. A heart ailment back in 2016 nearly ended his career, yet he returned for both club and country. There was simply no keeping him down.
Perhaps the most sobering aspect to Dempsey's retirement, beyond no longer seeing him on the field, is the realization that he remains very much an outlier, at least in terms of U.S. attackers. He and Landon Donovan -- the source of constant comparisons for much of his career -- are the only ones in the conversation as the country's greatest attacking player. Christian Pulisic has accomplished much already with Borussia Dortmund, but he still has a way to go to catch up to the exploits of Dempsey. Otherwise the cupboard of creative U.S. players remains bare.
Of course, a big reason why Dempsey is so celebrated is that he was unique. All he wanted to do was score goals, spend time with his family and go fishing. Now he'll have more time to enjoy the last two on that list.