By Kevin Koczwara
Clint Dempsey, Texas native and one time New England Revolution player who set the Major League Soccer record for transfer overseas, $4 million, scored the United States only goal in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He became the second American ever to score in two different World Cups, joining Brian McBride, this summer when he brought the U.S. men’s national team level with England in Rustenburg, South Africa.
Yet, since winning the 2006 Honda Player of the Year Award, given to the best American soccer player and voted by journalists, Dempsey’s path to success has almost fallen on deaf ears because he plays for a semi-small club in England, Fulham, not the domestic MLS, a huge club in Europe, and he isn’t named Landon Donovan.
Donovan has been a great ambassador for the game of soccer in America. There is no doubting that. But, what Donovan hasn’t been able to do, and this is partially because the MLS won’t let him, is ride out his career overseas in one of the world’s top leagues. Yes, Donovan had a great short loan spell with Everton last year, and he should look to do it again this year, but that was a quick spell where he fit into the team’s plans perfectly. Neither side had much to lose. Everton was skidding, and Donovan was still a star in the U.S. with the Los Angeles Galaxy. There was no risk because Donovan knew he would still be star when he returned to Los Angeles.
Unlike Donovan, Dempsey has enjoyed consistent success in one of the world’s best leagues, the English Premier League. Dempsey moved to Fulham for the 2006/07 season after telling the MLS and the Revolution that he would not sign a new contract because he wanted to take his chances abroad. With the Revolution, Dempsey had impressed with 25 goals in 75 matches, and his ability to create for teammates and his great work ethic impressed scouts overseas.
The men at Craven Cottage took a shot on the most expensive MLS export at the time. And it’s paid off.
With Fulham, Dempsey became the first American soccer player to play in a European Cup final last year. He came on for Bobby Zamora in the Europa League Cup Final with Atletico Madrid. Fulham lost in extra time when Diego Forlan scored in the 116th minute to give Madrid a 2-1 lead. But Dempsey played well at one of Europe’s highest levels and proved he could play in European competition.
In fact, if it weren’t for Dempsey’s skill, Fulham would never have sniffed the Europa Cup Final.
Dempsey scored a miracle goal against Italian heavyweights Juventus in the round of 16, sealing Fulham’s passage on aggregate. The goal Demspey scored has gone down as one of the best goals the competition has ever seen, and cemented himself at Craven Cottage as one of the club’s legends.
Dempsey has been a consistent goalscorer for Fulham. Dempsey scored five goals each of the last four seasons, only seven other players in the Premier League can say they’ve done that. If, more than likely when, Dempsey scores his sixth goal this season in league play, he will become one of four players to have scored six goals in each of the last four season, Fernando Torres of Liverpool needs one more goal as well to achieve this feat.
List of players to score at least five goals in the last four English Premier League seasons (goals scored included)
- Fernando Torres (61)
- Carlos Tevez (50)
- Darren Bent (49)
- Didier Drogba (48)
- Dimitar Berbatov (47)
- Tim Cahill (31)
- Clint Dempsey (25)
- Salomon Kalou (23)
Now, Dempsey does not score on a regular basis like the rest of the leader board, but he is a model for consistency in a winger or the attacking midfield role. Whether deployed on the right or left flank, or as a supporting striker, Dempsey finds space in the box and pops up at the right time to score when his team needs him most. The American is sort of reminiscent Rafael Van der Vaart in that way. There is no real specific position to fit either player in. When deployed out wide, they like to sneak into the middle to receive the ball and work from there. When situated at the second striker, both players can get lost in a game when they don’t have space to roam, or chances in and around the box.
In no way am I saying Dempsey is as good or even better as Van der Vaart, the numbers aren’t there to back up that statement, but I can compare the two players style of play and lack of media attention or recognition because of shining lights in their national teams.
Wesley Sneijder, and even Robin van Persie when he’s healthy, is to Van der Vaart as Donovan is to Dempsey. Sneijder now occupies the number 10 jersey for the Netherlands, something Van der Vaart once sported. For Dempsey, he has and may never be graced with the illustrious 10 on his back, he just isn’t that type of player. Neither is Van der Vaart. They are both goal hawks in front of the net – players who find themselves in front of the net or in the box with the ball at their feet and know how to score. They don’t fit the typical mold of a number 10, and they struggle to find a place in a ream with a strict structure.
Dempsey found a perfect fit at Fulham and he’s excelled there. The club’s realistic goals and the fans love of players who work for a team and score important goals, has lead him to be a fan favorite, much like Van der Vaart is right now with Tottenham.
Fulham signed a Dempsey to contract extension until 2013, but if he keeps up the good form this season, he could find himself a hot commodity this January or come the summer, when a move to a bigger club could be in order for the Texan.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.