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Ryan Rosenblatt | September 25, 2014

Heir to the throne

the king of American soccer and the man in line to succeed him

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Landon Donovan vs. Clint Dempsey is, perhaps, the most tiresome debate in American soccer. Who's the best outfield player that the United States has ever produced? One of the two, surely, but then it gets complicated.

Regardless of your answer, what the ongoing debate really highlights is how easy it is to forget how fortunate this generation of American fans, and American teams, have been in getting both at the same time. Donovan and Dempsey spent the better part of seven years playing together while both were performing at a very high level, leading the U.S. to untold heights and helping to grow the fan base exponentially.

But Donovan is effectively gone, set to make his last appearance for the U.S. in October before retiring at the end of the year, and the clock is ticking on 31-year-old Dempsey now. Will he still be a part of the U.S. team come the 2018 World Cup?

Be it in the next three years, or in 2019, the U.S. is going to have to move away from Dempsey eventually. Father Time remains undefeated. Dempsey isn't done yet, he is still the Americans' talisman, but what will happen when ages beats him? We look at Dempsey's remarkable career, and who could take his place.

  1. Clint Dempsey+

    Clint Dempsey's journey to the top of American soccer has not been easy. He was from the small town of Nagadoches, Texas, and his parents had to pay money they could barely afford and drive him to Dallas for him to play with quality club teams. He went to Furman University, which is hardly a soccer factory and he wasn't a top prospect in the 2004 MLS Draft, falling to No. 8 overall.

    But once Dempsey got to the pros, he did nothing but rise. It didn't take him long before he was contributing for the New England Revolution, which is nothing to sneeze at considering they were one of MLS's best teams at the time. Eventually, he was starting and at the end of his rookie season, he got his first cap for the U.S. national team.

    By 2006, Dempsey had made the World Cup team, and was the only American to score in the tournament. He had cemented his status as one of America's best players and was an automatic starter for the national team.

    Dempsey had higher hopes than just the national team, though. He wanted to play his club ball at the highest level and in 2006, he got the chance, moving to Fulham. There, he was projected to be a backup, but he earned himself a starting role. Then a new manager came in and he was relegated to the bench again, only to become a starter once more.

    If one thing became a constant in Dempsey's career, it was circumstances putting him a step behind, only for him to respond by taking two steps forward.

    In six years with Fulham, Dempsey was a constant. No new managers, relegation battles or even European aspirations could keep him off the pitch and off of the scoresheet. He scored one of the most memorable goals ever by an American, a remarkable chip to complete an unbelievable Europa League comeback against Juventus in 2010. He set an American record for goals in Europe, scoring 23 across all competitions in 2011-12, a year that also saw him set a Fulham record for Premier League goals (17) and finish fourth in FWA Footballer of the Year voting.

    A move to Tottenham Hotspur followed and, eventually, he returned to MLS, signing for a league record fee when he joined the Seattle Sounders, which was appropriate.

    The Sounders have the biggest fan base in MLS, and they have set the standard to some degree for all MLS clubs since joining the league in 2009. That was a few years after Dempsey left the league, only to go on and become the most productive American European club soccer has ever seen. Dempsey was a standard setter for Americans in Europe, and now he is with MLS's new standard setter.

    As far as American soccer goes, Dempsey is the man

    While all this has gone on, Dempsey has continued to shine for the U.S. He has played in three World Cups, captains the team now and has the entire attack built around him. As far as American soccer goes, he is the man. And at 31 years old, Dempsey says he wants to keep playing for the foreseeable future, for club and country.

    But how long will he be able to perform at a high level? How long will he be able to lead the U.S.? However long you think it is, it is probably longer. Dempsey has made a habit of exceeding expectations.

  2. Julian Green+

    Claudio Reyna was the man the United States was built around. Then he passed the torch to Landon Donovan, who set all kinds of records. Eventually, Clint Dempsey ended up as the centerpiece of the U.S., captain and spark of the attack. But one day, he too will have to move on. Maybe it will be before the 2018 World Cup, maybe after, but someone will have to become the Yanks' new star.

    And Julian Green looks to be next in line.

    It takes a fair bit of faith to anoint a 19-year-old with only four caps "next." The U.S. has been burned enough times by overhype, from John O'Brien, to Freddy Adu, and even Jozy Altidore -- although what Altidore is, how good he is and whether he can still be "next" for the U.S. is a long, complicated question -- but there is reason to be exceedingly excited about Green.

    Green isn't just a Bayern Munich prospect. He isn't just someone the U.S. grabbed from Germany. He is a legitimate talent, one who has showed the type of skill and creativity that Americans often lack, and he already has a World Cup goal to his name.

    Born in Tampa, Fla. to an American serviceman father and German mother, Green moved to Germany after his parents split up at the tender age of 2. That happens all the time, but rarely does that kid end up in the Bayern Munich academy, and starring to boot. Rarely does that kid end up playing for the Germany youth teams. Rarely does that kid get a cameo for Bayern in the Champions League while still a teenager.

    There's no doubt that Green is unique in American soccer. But how good can he really be?

    That question casts a large shadow over U.S. soccer right now. As exciting as Green is, there are concerns. He may have been dynamite for Bayern's reserves, but he played just twice for the senior team. And that made up his entire top flight experience as of this summer.

    Against Belgium, Green definitely looked the part

    When the U.S. went to Brazil for the World Cup, Green was there on the plane. He made the team, under scrutiny and objections from a lot of observers. He was too inexperienced and could not contribute. Some said he was promised a World Cup place to pick the U.S. over Germany. Few were talking about whether he could help the Americans in Brazil, because nobody thought he would see meaningful minutes.

    And then Green scored in extra time against Belgium. He looked the part. And that followed with a loan move to Hamburg, giving him the chance to play an entire season in the Bundesliga.

    That is where Green stands now: supremely talented World Cup goalscorer in his first top flight season at just 19 years old.

    Does that make Green "next" for the Yanks? Does that make him the heir apparent to Dempsey? Does that put way too much on the 19-year-old?

    Maybe, maybe, and maybe, but it's a level of excitement and promise that is all too rare for U.S. soccer.

About the Author

When not posting about adoracute animals posing with soccer balls, or flying about the country taking in USMNT matches, Ryan Rosenblatt deigns to cover MLS matches for SB Nation Soccer. The lollipop of Soccer, Rosenblatt's got a flavor that will appease anyone: coverage of the US national team? You got it. Stepping in to write about the Eredivisie? I bet you can't even spell the Dutch League correctly.

Rosey is also silly enough to be a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that shouldn't make you take his soccer writing any less seriously.

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