Where Does Clint Dempsey Rank All-Time Among United States Soccer Players?
Landon Donovan is widely regarded as the best American soccer player of all time whether at the club level or on the international level, but is he really better than Clint Dempsey?
No disrespect to Donovan, but the touch, skill, directness, and toughness that Dempsey has displayed over his career in the English Premier League, in Major League Soccer, and at the international level is beyond anything that Donovan has shown in all of his impressive highlights and stats in Major League Soccer or for the United States at the international level.
The two biggest things that separate Dempsey from Donovan are Dempsey’s individual ability with the ball and his willingness and ability to use that ability effectively even against the toughest opponents. Whether people wish to admit it or not, Dempsey has always played with an intensity and aggressiveness that Donovan has never really shown, even in several of his most memorable goals.
Dempsey’s club resume far exceeds Donovan’s as well because there is no reasonable way to claim that all of Donovan’s stats and awards in MLS compare to Dempsey’s seven years of consistently scoring in the EPL as a midfielder. It’s important to remember that for much of Dempsey’s career he was playing in the midfield where he had less passes played to him in scoring positions.
While Donovan is a highly-skilled and smooth player who uses both feet interchangeably, there can be no comparison with the way that Dempsey harnessed his skill and mind to be effective and never intimidated by elite competition. The 2006 World Cup saw Donovan being bullied around and shut out of games, whereas Dempsey was attacking Italy and Ghana directly with his technical ability, creativity, and intensity.
It’s a shame that so frequently that former American players and soccer pundits claim that Donovan is the best American player ever, and it would be interesting to see some sort of poll of former American players and soccer media members where they either selected Donovan or Dempsey as the best American player ever.
Ranking Dempsey as the greatest American soccer player ever isn’t about criticizing or downplaying Donovan’s play and achievements, but it is about acknowledging that Dempsey has a more impressive playing resume combined with an ability to be more effective and dangerous against better opponents. Dempsey wasn’t selected to play for the United States until some three years after Donovan, and Dempsey’s scoring stats for the United States are very close to Donovan’s.
On a personal note, I remember a German friend telling me that Dempsey’s goal against Ghana in the 2006 World Cup was so good that it looked like an American didn’t score it. That comment really sheds light on how non-Americans really do view American soccer players as inferior and how Dempsey’s play has truly stood out among all other American players.