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.