Entering US Soccer Hall, Dempsey finds pressure eased
Clint Dempsey acknowledges the limelight changed him later in his career as he felt responsible for his club and American soccer.
Four years removed from playing and on the eve of his induction into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, he is free to be himself.
“I felt like when I first came into league, I was more open. I was more showing people my personality,” he said. “As you get older and then you start making more money and then the more pressure comes along with the role that you have, is almost like the opposite. I became more reclusive, didn’t want to bring too much drama that would add even more to the pressure and the expectations.”
After scoring 57 goals to tie the American international record set by Landon Donovan, Dempsey will be inducted on Saturday in Frisco, Texas, along with midfielder Shannon Boxx, forward Marco Etcheverry, coach Linda Hamilton and referee Esse Baharmast.
“Personality-wise, Clint is different,” said Bruce Arena, Dempsey’s first and last U.S. coach. “He played with a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t out to make friends. He was out to be a good player and score goals, and he did that. And he was never afraid to deal with a challenge.”
Voted the U.S. Soccer Federation Male Player of the Year in 2007, ’11 and ’12, Dempsey made 141 appearances for the national team from 2004-17. He scored 129 league goals: 25 for New England from 2004-06, 50 for Fulham from 2017-12, seven for Tottenham in 2012-13 and 47 for Seattle from 2013-18.
“I was always having to prove myself, and nothing was ever easy,” the 39-year-old Texan said, “but it’s what kind of gave me peace in the end, also, because it made everything that much better when it all worked out."
Dempsey started as a holding midfielder, became a wide midfielder and ended as a forward. His best club years were in England with Fulham.
He returned to the U.S. with the Sounders in August 2013. becoming one of Major League Soccer’s high-salaried marquee names.
“I’d had a grandparent that had passed away,” he said, “and you start thinking about, man, being across the pond is really far away from everybody. And it also was an opportunity to take care of my family in a great way with what was offered to me to come back.”
Among the current generation, Christian Pulisic has spoken of the burden of being counted on in the big moments. Dempsey says his current job as a television broadcaster is more liberating.
“You have the pressure to perform, whether you’re being an analyst or doing something else, but it wasn’t the same kind of pressure that I felt by being a designated player and always needing to play at the highest level possible," Dempsey said. "If things didn’t work out, I was the one being blamed. And then also throwing into the fact that the two heart procedures that I had towards the end were limiting me in terms of my performances.”
Dempsey’s 2016 season was cut short by an irregular heartbeat. He returned in 2017 and nearly prevented the U.S. from being eliminated from World Cup qualifying. He entered at the start of the second half and hit a post in the 77th minute of the infamous 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago.
Nicknamed Deuce, his alias as a rapper early in his career and his jersey number with Seattle, Dempsey provided a fiery edge. He was dropped from the U.S. roster for a World Cup prep match at Germany in 2006 after the Revolution suspended him for a training field fight with club captain Joe Franchino.
“I don’t know if competitive is the right word, but I’ve never played with a player who had — I know people use this term a lot with him — had a chip on his shoulder the way he did,” Donovan said. “It was against the opponent, sometimes it was against teammates, sometimes it was against referees or the coach. He would find something that would give him that edge, and when he got in that mindset he was unstoppable."
Dempsey was a trailblazer in England, in 2012 becoming the first American to score a hat trick in the Premier League in Fulham’s 5-2 win over Newcastle.
He recalled his most memorable goals as his first for the Revolution in 2004 against the MetroStars; his first for the national team in a 2005 friendly against England at Chicago’s Soldier Field; his first in the World Cup, against Ghana in 2006; and his goal 29 seconds in against the Black Stars in 2010 that made him the first American to score in three World Cups.
He worked as an analyst for CBS’s Paramount network during qualifying and will broadcast for Fox during this year's World Cup.
“You can just kind of talk, have fun, no agenda to push,” he said. “It’s what I feel passionate about. I like that it wasn’t week to week because I enjoy being retired. I love fishing and golf and hunting, running kids — I have five of them (19 months though 13 years). So I’m busy. I wouldn’t want to get a full-time, every-single-week role."