Clint Dempsey's MLS return sees him battle Landon Donovan as face of US Soccer
By Thomas Atzenhoffer
The past few years have seen Texas born Clint Dempsey become an ever present name on the lips of the average United States Soccer fan as well as many general American sports fans.
While for years it has been the Landon Donovan show, and for good reason as the LA Galaxy forward has deserved every bit of his accolades for his MLS performances, Dempsey has slowly started to overtake his United States Men’s National teammate in recognition.
The biggest proponent of the shifting of focus to Dempsey has been his success in England for the past few campaigns with Fulham and then his move to Tottenham last summer. With the English Premier League being the usual benchmark against which other leagues in the world are judged for competition, Dempsey has excelled and the people have noticed.
While Donovan has been loved and still is, he never made the move abroad that saw him become a multinational success story. His loan move to Bayern Munich was a horror show, but he did his best to make amends during two promising loans to Everton.
However, Dempsey’s prolific scoring run in the Premier League during 2011-12 for Fulham where he managed a goal every other game, scoring 23 across all competitions, set the bar for American’s in England, and had set it for Europe until Jozy Altidore in 2012-13 with AZ Alkmaar.
Dempsey’s high profile move to Tottenham over Liverpool last summer also proved once again that just perhaps the Texan had made it and was set to prove to the world that American footballer’s have what it takes to be at a major club in Europe and succeed.
However, only a year on it seems that despite a positive first campaign in North London in which he scored 12 goals in 29 appearances, Dempsey has moved on once again. To the shock of many he has returned to Major League Soccer at the age of 30, far sooner than many would have imagined or predicted despite having been part of some major moments in Tottenham’s 2012-13 campaign.
Dempsey helped Spurs defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in over two decades, and then again prevented the Red Devils from beating Spurs at White Hart Lane in a snowbound match hard to forget. He also scored a brace in the Europa League quarter-finals that saw Spurs have a chance to progress past FC Basel but they were eliminated on penalties.
Although he looked set to be a part of the coming campaign for Tottenham, it appears that management felt otherwise and Dempsey’s shocking return to MLS was on. Most likely the potentially lack of playing time swayed the forward’s mind as his eyes are focused on what is likely to be the most important World Cup in modern USMNT history.
At his unveiling on Saturday Night for the Seattle Sounders, Dempsey was applauded like a conquering hero returned from a far and distant land. In many ways that can be seen as correct as for the moment he is the highest scoring American in the history of English Football, and is likely to remain so for some time, unless Altidore scorches the net for the next few seasons with Sunderland.
While Donovan made his triumphant return to the USMNT this summer and stole the spotlight of the Gold Cup, Dempsey now will be the full focus of soccer in the United States and unless something dramatic happens in LA, it will be Dempsey and not Donovan on the lips of the majority of MLS fans for the foreseeable future.
The Sounders have made a statement signing for the US soccer community in bringing Dempsey home in the prime years of his career. His move could potentially see more international players see the league as growing in prominence if they can lure home a player that has been as successful as Dempsey in one of the world’s most demanding leagues.
Most importantly, the United States can for once and for all say that their two biggest stars are playing in their home country’s top league. The level of competition is certain to be improved with positive signings such as Dempsey returning home.
Has Dempsey truly overtaken Donovan as the most prominent face in US soccer at the moment? Some will say yes and some will say no, and the biggest question that many will now ask is just where he is likely to go on loan this January and February. A return to England is certainly going to be calling with Dempsey continuing to push his skills to the top of his game as the 2014 World Cup grows ever so close.
Playing time is certainly not going to be an issue as Dempsey will go straight into the first team for Seattle and with his talent, the only goal now for he and his new club is MLS Cup glory and making the most of his matches as he will be off on international duty this fall as the USMNT continue their quest to reach Brazil next summer.