Major League Soccer: Clint Dempsey’s rags to riches story

Clint Dempsey’s homecoming to MLS came in the form a blockbuster $9 million switch to the Seattle Sounders in August 2013, thereafter spending six successful years in the English Premier League with Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur.

Dempsey is widely regarded and acknowledged as the greatest-ever outfield US-born soccer player in the history of the English Premier League.

In addition, Dempsey is also the only US-born player in history to score a hat-trick in the English Premier League and the only US-born player in the history of the English Premier League to score more than 20 goals in one season (Dempsey scored 23 goals in the English Premier League 2011-2012 season). Incidentally, Dempsey wore number 23 whilst playing for Fulham.

Dempsey spent six very successful years playing in the English Premier League, netting 50 times in 184 outings with Fulham from 2007-2012 as an adored fan favorite at Craven Cottage before experiencing a relatively mixed campaign with Tottenham Hotspur in 2012-13 under André Villas-Boas; Dempsey scored 7 goals in 29 appearances for Spurs.

The highly driven and determined 35-year-old Texan, who is Irish-American, admittedly grew up in a poverty-stricken environment and resided in a trailer park with his family, whilst garnering an insatiable passion for soccer in competing in high-octane, freestyle-esque street games with kids predominately in Hispanic populated community of Nacogdoches, Texas.

During his very humble adolescence, Dempsey attentively studied the artful play and legacy of Argentinean national hero, Diego Armando Maradona, during his formative years in Texas in hope that big dreams would come to fruition; Maradona’s larger-than-life popularity in his beloved Argentina is on par with Che Guevera and The Pope.

The mesmerizingly breathtaking play of Maradona brought Serie A side Napoli their first Scudetto in history, whilst also marking the first-ever time a Southern Italian club won Serie A. Maradona was also very instrumental in Argentina winning their second FIFA World Cup in history at FIFA World Cup Mexico 1986. Maradona – known to Argentines as El Diego – was the driving force in the potent axis known as Ma-Gi-Ca at Serie A giants Napoli alongside Bruno Giordano and Brazilian Careca, who also played a pivotal role for Napoli in their legendary triumph in 1986-1987.

In 1994, an 11-year-old Dempsey richly anticipated the high-profile arrival of Maradona’s Argentina to play in his home state of Texas inside the Cotton Bowl at the FIFA World Cup USA 1994 before Diego Armando Maradona was disqualified from the tournament for violating the wellness policy, which was the most controversial story of the entire FIFA World Cup USA 1994 outside of the shocking death of Colombian defender, Andrés Escobar, who was blatantly murdered thereafter scoring an own goal against the United States (United States defeated Colombia 2-1).

Dempsey has officially netted 57 times for the United States Men’s National Team in 141 international games for the stars and stripes and is presently tied with USMNT icon Landon Donovan as the USMNT’s all-time leading goalscorer. Donovan currently plays for Liga MX side Club León in Mexico.

“I coached his older brother, Ryan, and Clint (Dempsey) was coming to my soccer camp when I was running those summer camps as an elementary kid. I was always impressed with his ball handling. He was very comfortable with the soccer ball compared to the others. His movement was very fluid and I always thought he was going to be a very good player. At that age and that time, I didn’t think he was going to go as far as he has — truthfully — because being from a small town in East Texas, there aren’t many opportunities. But you could tell that there was something inside burning.” commented Nacogdoches H.S Soccer Head Coach, Farshid Niroumand.

Furthermore, when Dempsey was only 14 years of age, his beloved sister Jennifer, tragically died at 16 due to a brain tumor. Prior to Jennifer’s untimely death and given the Dempsey family’s low-income and life of living in poverty within a trailer park, Dempsey’s parents could only afford to pay for Jennifer’s tennis lessons, thus leaving the then 14-year-old Dempsey to rigorously fight to reach his own lofty ambitions.

Throughout his life and well-documented professional career, Dempsey has made wise and timely decisions which have defined his strong-willed character and has effectively rebounded with vigor whenever the writing has appeared to be on the wall; Dempsey continues to proudly represent the United States Men’s National Team.

In 2016, Dempsey was ruled out for the remainder of the Major League Soccer seaon due to an irregular heartbeat. With many cynical critics speculating Dempsey’s irregular heartbeat to be the end of his successful professional career, the defiant Dempsey returned to action in the Major League Soccer 2017 season and scored 12 goals in 29 appearances for the Seattle Sounders, which subsequently led to the talented Texan being named as the Major League Soccer Comeback Player of the Year 2017.

When Dempsey’s playing time and opportunities were reduced under then Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas during the latter stages of his relatively brief stay at White Hart Lane, it was ultimately a blessing in disguise which subsequently led to a well-documented and big money Designated Player move back home to the United States which later sealed a vital place in Jurgen Klinsmann’s United States Men’s National Team final roster at the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014; the United States failed to qualify for this summer’s FIFA World Cup Russia 2018.

When Clint Dempsey scored against Paulo Bento’s Portugal at the FIFA World Cup 2014, the talented Texan instantly gained trending topic status on Twitter, whereas an approximate 174,000 retweets per minute were delivered when Dempsey sublimely netted in just 32 seconds against Ghana in the United States Men’s National Team’s opening game at the FIFA World Cup 2014; the USMNT national hero has also been featured as the cover athlete for mainstream major sports publication Sports Illustrated.

In effect, irrespective of still representing the United States, the overall likelihood of Dempsey appearing at the FIFA World Cup 2022 remains highly unlikely as Dempsey would then be 39, coupled alongside the United States’ plan to prepare for the next generation being very much implemented at present.

However, Clint Dempsey’s immeasurable contributions to United States soccer and the USMNT remains a huge element of his legacy, notably given that Dempsey is now very much in the relative twilight of his illustrious career.

Dempsey started his successful professional career with New England Revolution in the MLS in 2004. Dempsey decided to join Major League Soccer franchise Seattle Sounders from English Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur in a lucrative deal worth $9 million; which made the talented Texan among the most highest paid players in Major League Soccer history. Dempsey played varsity intercollegiate side Furman Paladins in Greenville, South Carolina before joining the New England Revolution.

Throughout Dempsey’s current very successful tenure in Emerald City with the Seattle Sounders, the multi-talented forward has triumphantly claimed the MLS Cup 2016, US Open Cup 2014 and Supporters Shield 2014. Seattle Sounders consistently draws 60,000 fans into Century Link Field in Seattle, Washington.

The highly passionate Seattle Sounders fans hold a passion for the beautiful game which is European-esque, which well-versed Toronto FC, Portland Timbers and New York City FC fans also share for soccer. The profile of Major League Soccer has generally gone from strength to strength in recent seasons, particularly given the amount of key Designated Players players who had left Europe, whilst still in their prime, such as Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco.

Dempsey is a four-time MLS All-Star and cites NBA legend Michael Jordan as his all-time favorite professional athlete (Dempsey wore number 23 when playing for Fulham as a tribute to the NBA legend).

Fulham is the oldest professional football club in London and has a great American heritage with Dempsey, Brian McBride, Kasey Keller, Marcus Hahnemann to name a few all playing for Fulham in their career.

United States Men’s National Team defender, Tim Ream, currently plays for Fulham, whereas Fulham is owned by affluent Pakistani-American billionaire, Shahid Khan, who also currently owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Fulham is the oldest established football club in London (founded in 1879) and have also played at their current home stadium Craven Cottage since 1896. Furthermore, prior to Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan owning Fulham, the west London club was owned by Egyptian billionaire tycoon/businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed, who owned high class luxury department store Harrods in London, United Kingdom. Al-Fayed is incidentally the father of the late Dodi Al-Fayed, the boyfriend of Princess Diana, who both died in August 1997 in a well-documented horrific car accident in France.

Furthermore, Michael Jackson was once invited as a special guest of honor to Fulham at half-time due to his relationship with Al-Fayed, to which later led “The King of Pop” to have a statue of in Al-Fayed’s likeness erected outside of Craven Cottage. Jackson was a fan of Fulham.

Dempsey’s highly memorable time at Fulham witnessed unprecendented feats and beloved popularity, which later witnessed the Craven Cottage faithful voting the American in Fulham’s all-time eleven greatest players in Fulham’s illustrious club history; the immortal likes of Bobby Moore and George Best played for Fulham albeit in the twilight years.

Outside of the beautiful game, Dempsey – under the alias Deuce – recorded hip-hop track ‘Don’t Tread On This’ alongside popular Houston hip-hop recording artist Big Hawk for a popular Nike media and television campaign; Hip-Hop is an avid passion of Dempsey’s.

However, the overall legacy Dempsey left behind in England is a vastly sound one in being recognized as the most successful outfield US-born player in the annals of the English Premier League’s twenty five year history.

Notable outfield US-born standouts in John Harkes (the second-ever American in history to score a goal at Wembley Stadium), Brian McBride, DaMarcus Beasley, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Joe-Max Moore, Landon Donovan and DeAndre Yedlin remain as just a few prime examples of outfield US-born players in the English Premier League. Dempsey’s imprint and legacy in MLS is also indelible, particularly given his success with the Seattle Sounders.

With Dempsey’s reign in Seattle, the never-say-die attitude of the Texan has inspired millions around the world, especially with his own against all odds tale and infinite drive everytime he takes to the field of dreams in the beautiful game.

It is more than a game for Dempsey. It is a true rags to riches story which defines the American Dream. Dempsey’s American Dream is alive and well and the Texan is unquestionably looking to further add to his many accomplishments this season with the Seattle Sounders before the proverbial final whistle blows in his storied and decorated career.

(Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America)

Dean Perretta
Dean Perretta is a 2x SEA Award-winning creative, Broadcast Journalist, Reporter, Courtside Analyst for BBC televised London Lions and Executive Producer who currently contributes to FOX Sports Radio, FourFourTwo Magazine and Muscle & Fitness Magazine.