Clint Dempsey only needs one goal to beat Landon Donovan’s all-time U.S. goal record, but oddly, Dempsey is still underrated even by Americans.
Dempsey and not Landon Donovan is the best U.S. soccer player ever because Donovan played his club football in MLS and not in what the rest of the world considers a real league.
Here are some of the reasons that Dempsey is the best U.S. player of all-time:
Clint Dempsey is the most successful U.S. player in a top league.
Dempsey played in the English Premier League for seven years, and he was a consistent goalscorer all of those seasons, even as a midfielder. Brian McBride was another long-time Fulham player, but there was a night and day difference between Dempsey’s skill-level and McBride’s. Dempsey’s flair and creativity showed much more talent than McBride’s play, which was based on hold up play and headers.
Clint Dempsey’s technical ability is better than any other U.S. player including Christian Pulisic, who is merely faster.
Dempsey’s technical ability was and is shockingly good for an American player. That should be the thing that he is remembered for. Even right now, Dempsey’s skill on the ball and comfort with it is way beyond all of his teammates save Pulisic. Pulisic hasn’t shown all of his skills yet, but it will be hard for his technical ability to truly be above Dempsey’s. The thing about Pulisic’s play is that he plays with much more speed than Dempsey, which changes everything. With the extra speed, Pulisic is able to be so much more direct and devastating to defenders than Dempsey ever was without the same gift of speed and quickness. Dempsey uses both feet interchangeably as Pulisic does, and Dempsey has shown a full arsenal of dribbling, passing, and shooting skills. In recent years, he has also displayed excellent free kick ability.
Clint Dempsey performed better than any other U.S. player against elite competition and in big games.
Landon Donovan did nothing in the 2006 World Cup, and you can’t say the same thing about any World Cup that Dempsey played in. The U.S. national team was never in the spotlight much more than when they faced Spain the the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup. During that tournament Dempsey was the U.S. player that shined above everyone else. After losing in the final to Brazil, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline about Dempsey that read “American loses a final but gains a leader.” That was an incredible headline at the time. On many occasions Donovan looked intimidated and played small against elite opponents. Not so for Dempsey.
Clint Dempsey played against better competition than Landon Donovan.
Whereas Donovan played essentially his entire career in MLS, Dempsey spent seven years in the EPL. No matter how much MLS has improve since its inception, the skill level and competition in the league is nothing compared to the EPL. From Dempsey’s very first game in the EPL, he showed that he belonged and could perform well at that level. It’s a shame that he never got to play in La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga because he would have played excellently there. His game was all about skill and technical ability, and those leagues are based on that more than the EPL. If you want the real proof that Dempsey has a more impressive resume than Donovan, it’s his consistently high level in the EPL for seven years while Donovan played in MLS.
Clint Dempsey is tied with Landon Donovan on all-time U.S. goals with much fewer penalty kick goals.
It’s important to remember than Donovan played with the national team since he was 18, whereas Dempsey didn’t start until he was 21 or 22. That’s some four more years of national team appearance to score goals. Even with such a huge head start, Dempsey is now tied with Donovan at 57 U.S. goals. And Donovan had lots of goals off penalties. Donovan has openly acknowledged as much, and he’s said Dempsey’s goal-rate was more impressive. To be fair, Donovan was being generous and complimentary to Dempsey when he made those comments, but they still seemed sincere. Here are 50 of Dempsey’s 57 U.S. goals:
Clint Dempsey played consistently well as a pro from his time in MLS to the English Premier League to back in MLS.
It’s hard to recall any real low points or bad games for Dempsey in his career. His detractors sometimes accused him of some overdribbling or forcing things, but Dempsey never really played poorly. Dempsey wasn’t highly rated before the MLS Combine, and he proved just how bad scouting within American soccer really was. He went from being essentially a nobody to head and shoulders above all of his American contemporaries except for Donovan. That elite level for a U.S. player began as a rookie in MLS up until still right now at 34. You can’t say that Dempsey’s fitness or skill level has dropped at any point since he became a professional.