Clint Dempsey calls it a career
Photo: Nathan Forget, CC BY 2.0
Thirteen months and a week ago, Clint Dempsey scored in the 83rd minute against Costa Rica in the Gold Cup semifinal. The game’s second goal, it killed the match, sending the US into the final. His low free-kick curled around the Ticos wall, slithering inside the near post that keeper Patrick Pemberton had dared him to find. As New England Revolution, Fulham, Tottenham, Seattle Sounders and USMNT opponents learned over the years, do not dare Deuce to do anything. The Nacogdoches, Texas native will make you look the fool.
Pemberton’s defenders could’ve told him had they turned to see their man cheating towards the far post. Dempsey came on in the 67th minute, took a pass in the centre circle from Darlington Nagbe ten minutes later, spun, sped off towards goal, then sent a perfectly weighted through ball to the left for Jozy Altidore to run onto, beat Pemberton, and open the scoring.
At 34, the long, lanky forward with the vacant stare wasn’t starting but still carried the US team forward. The goal was his 57th in stars and stripes, tying the retired [temporarily at club level] Landon Donovan for the all-time mark. Afterwards, the LA Galaxy legend sent his old partner a playful tweet.
I’m sure he thought his plea would fall on deaf ears, that Dempsey fully intended to ignore it. Instead, the football gods deemed it appropriate for the duo to share the honour until Christian Pulisic runs them down in another decade or so. Clint never scored another goal for his country.
Now, he never will. Nine games remain in Seattle’s MLS campaign but Dempsey announced his retirement with immediate effect on Tuesday.
The back-to-back MLS Cup finalists began the campaign in poor form but roared back into the playoff picture over the summer. With two games in hand on Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy, it’s possible Sounders may secure home advantage in the first-round one-off play-in. Their talisman had little to do with the charge, however, Dempsey’s final goal in green and blue, his lone league strike in 2018, came on Matchday 17 in a draw with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Chicago Fire.
He played the full 90 in that one, as well as the following defeat to Portland Timbers. He came on for the final half-hour against Colorado and New England before sitting out the match against Atlanta United with a groin injury. Over the next three matches, he was unused twice but came on for the final ten minutes in the middle contest. Then a back injury shelved him for another four matches.
Seattle won all seven matches without him. Dempsey read the writing on the wall then, on Wednesday, stepped aside for the team’s sake. The move only confirms his class.
Premier League fans harbour mixed feelings about the Texas gunslinger. He scored some critical goals for Fulham and Tottenham. Some, like the audacious chip that sent the Cottagers to the Europa League final, were inspiring, but the scuffed shot that beat Robert Green in the 2010 World Cup sticks in the throat. Luckily, Steven Gerrard put the match back on level terms. As well, the never-consummated dalliance with Liverpool angered Fulham supporters, leading to his switch from Craven Cottage to White Hart Lane.
Transfer business’ tawdry nature aside, Dempsey’s unique among American players. He grew up in a small, working-class town where youth soccer hadn’t yet tamed and organised to death the creative spirit pick-up games foster. The youngster developed into an unorthodox, unpredictable winger and striker who could play both the no.9 and 10 roles. When he collected the ball then turned towards goal, you never knew what he might do. More often than not, however, it was the right thing.
As his choice proved to be this one last time.