Bruce Arena Taking United States 2017 Gold Cup Competition Too Lightly

Bruce Arena has been a better national team coach than Jürgen Klinsmann in terms of his player selection and tactics, but Arena has taken the Gold Cup competition too lightly. In the 2017 Gold Cup, the United States has been drawing or barely winning, and in the semifinals, it took Clint Dempsey coming on in the 69th minute to break the deadlock with an artistic assist and a masterful free kick goal to finally beat Costa Rica.

Arena’s coaching decisions in this Gold Cup haven’t been poor, but they haven’t been excellent either. Arena has been taking opposing teams too lightly by shuffling lineups and auditioning players too much while also failing to start a playmaker behind the strikers to fill Christian Pulisic’s Number 10 role. Pulisic is already back with his club team Borussia Dortmund, and the United States’ passing, creativity, and attack has been subpar compared to previous recent U.S. National Team games.

The second-time U.S. coach was close to fielding a strong lineup against Costa Rica in the semifinal, but again there was no real attacking midfielder or playmaker until Dempsey came on late in the game. Pairing Kellyn Acosta and Michael Bradley as the holding midfielders behind the more attacking players was an improvement for the squad as Bradley could sit deeper in front of the defense and Acosta was free to go forward more. On the other hand, starting Graham Zusi once again at right back was suspect at best. Arena is apparently going to insist on having Zusi as a right back option, and Arena has really dug his heels in on this questionable decision.

Against Jamaica on Wednesday in the 2017 Gold Cup Final, Arena will likely start Dempsey rather than saving him for the end like last game which was done on purpose to account for Dempsey’s 90 minute performance just a few days prior to the semifinal against Costa Rica. Look for Dempsey to play alongside Jozy Altidore up top in the attack or to play as the center attacking midfielder behind Altidore and possibly Jordan Morris. We could see the United States drop Acosta in order to go with the more attack-minded 4-1-3-2 formation, but maybe not.

Arena has been taking the United States’ Gold Cup competition way too lightly in the 2017 Gold Cup, but against Jamaica in the final, Arena would be wise to not start the likes of Zusi or Gyasi Zardes. It will be interesting to see if Paul Arriola or Joe Corona starts in the final, but with many first-choice attacking players like Pulisic, Sebastian Lletget, and Kelyn Rowe not on this roster, one of Corona or Arriola should start.

 

Bruce Arena’s Forward Options for the U.S. National Team

Bruce Arena’s Forward Options for the United States Men’s National Team

Bruce Arena has five good forwards for arguably only four forward roster spots. Some of these forwards are clearly better than the others.

For starters, Clint Dempsey is the best forward in the pool, and the best American soccer player ever.

Next, Bobby Wood is the best center forward in the pool, even better than Jozy Altidore. Wood is more technical, faster, more aggressive, and more clinical, and all of these reasons make him better than Altidore.

After Altidore, comes Juan Agudelo, who is more creative and more skilled than Altidore. Like Wood, Agudelo is a more aggressive and direct player than Altidore, who himself has undergone something of a Renaissance. Altidore has vastly improved his playmaking and passing, plus he has been attacking defenders more directly and beating them off the dribble.

Finally, we have Jordan Morris, who plays like Bobby Wood, but Morris still heavily favors his right foot; Morris has also not shown the type of clinical finishing that Wood has shown, but Morris can definitely put the ball in the back of the net. Morris offers speed like Wood, but Morris has to be faster than Wood, who himself is devastatingly fast.

So, we see that Arena has a good problem, and the way the Dempsey plays makes him something of a playmaker, which allows Arena to put all five of these players on the roster. Maybe it’s too many forwards since all are center forwards, but Agudelo, Wood, and Altidore all also play like second strikers or withdrawn forwards.

Because the United States historically has had problems scoring enough goals against elite competition, there is something to be said of just making a habit of calling up four to five forwards who have no problems scoring. Using two forwards at once is common enough and often wise, and a substitute for two forwards would give the roster four forwards, plus Dempsey who of course is also an attacking midfielder.

The major story line for the United States’ next game will be whether or not Arena will be wise enough to start Dempsey and Wood together without getting distracted by all the attention and buzz around Altidore’s much improved play. There is also the storyline of Agudelo’s more consistent club play where he’s starting and scoring as a Number 9 for the New England Revolution, and leaving him off the roster would be a big mistake. If one forward has to be left off, then it might have to be Morris, but not calling up a forward with world-class speed combined with aggressive and skillful play might be a big mistake too.

Is Altidore’s improved play more impressive than Agudelo or Morris’ abilities?

We’ll see.

 

Takeaways from the United States’ World Cup Qualifiers against Honduras and Panama

Takeaways from the United States’ World Cup Qualifiers against Honduras and Panama

The United States beat Honduras and drew with Panama for an important four points in World Cup qualifying, but the United States should have taken the full six points from these two games. Bruce Arena reverted to an overly conservative lineup against Panama with both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in the center of the midfield, and Arena’s center back choices, Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream, looked bad against Panama. With Jones in the midfield, the U.S. lost the passing skill and attacking flair they showed with Christian Pulisic as the Number 10 behind Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.

Here are some of the big takeaways from the United States’ two World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama:

Bruce Arena Is a Bigger Proponent of Skill Soccer than Jürgen Klinsmann

Bruce Arena is a bigger proponent of skill soccer than Jürgen Klinsmann, which is strange. Klinsmann is one of the all-time leaders in World Cup goals as a striker, but he never fielded the players and formations needed to really attack opponents. In every game that Arena has coached for the United States in his second coaching stint, he has fielded proactive lineups with as many technical and creative players as he could fit into the lineup. Arena had multiple injuries to deal with against Panama, so that lineup was not as technical, creative, and attack-minded as his Honduras lineup. Nevertheless, Klinsmann’s lineups were never as bold and attack-minded as Arena’s, who used to be known for always using the 4-4-2 formation with two defensive midfielders, except for his use of Sebastian Lletget as the other central midfielder for the LA Galaxy in 2016. With the U.S., Arena’s preference has been to use two forwards with three attacking midfielders and only one defensive midfielder, and Arena was even bold enough to let Christian Pulisic be the team’s Number 10 over both Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan.

Christian Pulisic Should Be the United States’ Permanent Number 10

As soon as Christian Pulisic was allowed to play the Number 10 role, he attacked opponents directly with speed, skill, and vision, and he created four goals for Clint Dempsey in two games. To be fair, one of Dempsey’s goals was a free kick, but Pulisic directly set up three of Dempsey’s four goals. Pulisic has already displayed a full array of passing and attacking skills in the Bundesliga, and as one media member put it, the fact that Panama instantly chose to hack and push Pulisic around was the ultimate sign of respect for his abilities.

Bruce Arena must focus on improving his defense

The United States was without three of its four defenders against Panama, but nevertheless, both Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream just looked not good enough to be playing for the U.S. Perhaps Ream was just a little nervy at times, but Gonzalez is not quick enough and fast enough to be starting. Arena will have to commit to using Walker Zimmerman and Steve Birnbaum when Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are out, and Arena must also look for some more center backs. Andrew Farrell is one option because his combines the defending, speed, and skill on the ball to play at the international level. Surely, the U.S. has some other center backs as well.

Clint Dempsey Looks Like He’s Still in His Prime

Fresh off of recovering from an irregular heartbeat, Clint Dempsey played like a monster against Honduras and Panama. Deuce benefited from playing with Pulisic, but all of Dempsey’s goals except the fourth one required a ton of skill; the fourth goals required coolness in front of the goal more than anything as the goal was all Pulisic’s work. Not only is Dempsey’s touch and finishing looking sharp, but physically he looked light on his feet and fast. Dempsey has never been lightning fast, but his overly all athletic ability has been underrated as many mischaracterized him as mostly a toughness player. Dempsey has stood out as an American for his skill on the ball, trickery, and clinical finishing, but his continued ability to run all game and beat people in a foot race are also important.

 

The United States Lineup Was Too Conservative in Draw Against Panama

The United States Lineup Was Too Conservative in Draw Against Panama

Bruce Arena fielded an overly conservative United States lineup featuring Jermaine Jones against Panama, and the team showed less passing and attacking prowess in a 1-1 tie. The United States could have used the full three points against a Panama squad that is frankly not good enough to warrant an overly defensive lineup. Not attacking the opponent might be the best way to let the opponent attack you.

In the previous win against Honduras, Arena used only one defensive midfielder behind a line of three attacking midfielders and two forwards, and this setup allowed Christian Pulisic to pull the attacking strings behind Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. Using a 4-4-2 formation with Jones next to Michael Bradley in the middle of the midfield, the United States didn’t open up the Panamanian defense enough or create enough scoring chances.

Jozy Altidore, who was involved and impressive in his playmaking as a center forward was largely invisible against Panama in a formation that didn’t get him enough touches as it had against Honduras.

Panama was all over Pulisic pushing him around and trying to take him out of the game with physicality, but the Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder powered through the physicality and was largely unfazed. On the U.S.’ only goal which Dempsey scored, Pulisic shook off and danced around two Panamanian defenders to set up Dempsey from point blank range, and Dempsey didn’t miss. Pulisic continued to display tons of skill and impressive speed, and there can be little doubt now that Pulisic is the best U.S. player along with Dempsey. Pulisic looks to be better than both Landon Donovan and Dempsey, and compared to Dempsey, Pulisic is much quicker and faster, and a better passer.

The American defense was bad with Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, and Jorge Villafaña from right to left, but Villafaña continues to impress. Zusi, Gonzalez, and Ream shouldn’t be starting when there are better options, which there weren’t.

Darlington Nagbe was excellent again with his passing, slashing runs, and speed, which he uses to bring the ball into dangerous areas in the attack. In the next U.S. game, Arena would be wise to continue to use Nagbe on the left wing with Pulisic in the center and Paul Arriola on the right wing, since Sebastian Lletget is now injured.

Arena made a roster mistake in not bringing Juan Agudelo. Once Altidore was ineffective against Panama, the U.S. needed a sub for Altidore, and there wasn’t one. This should have been Agudelo. Altidore needs a lineup that feeds him the ball more, and his passing and dribbling was impressive against Honduras. Still, it’s hard to start Altidore over a healthy Bobby Wood, who was injured for these two World Cup qualifiers. Even though Altidore impresses, Wood is better at stretching the defense than Altidore, and the Pulisic will be an even bigger weapon with a striker of Wood’s smoothness, directness, and speed.

The big takeaways from this game were several: Altidore continues to improve, Pulisic is outstanding as the playmaker, Dempsey and Pulisic are the best players on the team, and an attack-minded lineup is the best U.S. formation.

There’s no way around the fact that being satisfied with a tie against Panama is a little weak and small-minded. The United States is too good at soccer now to be ok with a tie against Panama when the U.S. could have really used the full three points for the win.

Who Should the United States against Panama?

Who Should the United States against Panama?

Whatever Bruce Arena does, he should be sure not to change the attack-minded nature of the United States’ lineup that beat Honduras 6-0. Arena only used one defensive midfielder, Michael Bradley, as opposed to using a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, and this allowed the United States to overload its lineup with attacking players without having too little defensive coverage in front of the defense.

There’s no reason to change goalkeepers, especially since Brad Guzan isn’t even on the roster, so Tim Howard should start in goal again. However, the rest of the defense will have some changes as one of the two starting center backs, John Brooks, is unavailable. Arena was using Geoff Cameron at right back, but Arena may need to move him back to center back because otherwise the center of the American defense may be too week.

The U.S. could start Cameron with Tim Ream, and this would give the United States two athletic and technical center backs to try to get three more points against Panama. Omar Gonzalez is a decent center back, but he frequently looks prone to be wrong-footed or outfoxed with lateral quickness and speed. Likewise, Matt Besler, the only U.S. center back option, is fast but somewhat mediocre for international play. If Arena wants to be really bold again, then he could use Walker Zimmerman who is fast enough, technical enough, and aggressive enough to make for a quality center back in international play. Compared to Gonzalez and Besler, Zimmerman is likely harder to get past and more intimidating for attackers.

In the Front Six, which would include the defensive midfielder, the three attacking midfielders, and the two forwards, the United States should change as little as possible from the lineup that pounded Honduras. For one of the first times ever, the United States looked like they were playing skill soccer, and that lineup produced quick passing, creative play, and goals. Since one of those starters, Sebastian Lletget, cannot start against Panama due to injury, Arena should let Paul Arriola start at right wing over Alejandro Bedoya. Arriola is playing great for Club Tijuana, and Arriola plays the type of free-flowing soccer that Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Darlington Nagbe play.

Here’s who the United States should start against Panama:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: Omar Gonzalez

Center Back: Tim Ream

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Right Wing: Paul Arriola

Attacking Midfielder: Christian Pulisic

Left Wing: Darlington Nagbe

Forward: Jozy Altidore

Forward: Clint Dempsey

 

Clint Dempsey Is Still Underrated and Disrespected by Americans

Clint Dempsey Is Still Underrated and Disrespected By Americans

At a certain point, underrating someone crosses the line into disrespecting someone, and that applies to Clint Dempsey. Many media members and fans will insist that Dempsey isn’t the best American soccer player ever, and this is very hard to understand. Dempsey has been displaying individual trickery and goals for 12 years, but there is still no widespread acknowledgment of his superiority to Landon Donovan.

Dempsey’s playing resume features some seven years of playing in the English Premier League and scoring goals consistently as a midfielder, even while playing for a mediocre Fulham team without much technical quality or creativity in the squad. At the international level, Dempsey is now just two goals short of Landon Donovan’s goal-scoring record, which is likely the last obstacle to being considered the best American player ever.

More so than the statistics, Dempsey really stands out from Donovan for his ability to always be dangerous and effective even against the very best international opponents. Unlike Donovan, Dempsey wasn’t ever neutralized be opponents or psyched out by elite international opponents, and it was this ability to always be a difference maker, no matter the opponent, that makes him the best American player ever. No matter how bad the rest of the team played, Dempsey always stood out amongst his teammates when the U.S. played.

He might be a victim of American soccer fans and media members being adverse to individual trickery and flashiness, as American soccer fans are still largely influenced by British soccer where tricks and flair are seen as pointless. Many times Dempsey was criticized for some of his 1v1 attempts not panning out, and some people viewed his play as wasteful. Anyway you look at it though, he always looked much better than his teammates, and his goals confirmed that this was in fact true.

In the most recent U.S. victory over Honduras, people kept saying that Dempsey probably wouldn’t start or that he wouldn’t be at 100%, but Dempsey scored a hat trick where every goal showcased technical skill and clinical finishing. The standard criticism of American soccer players is that they lack the skill on the ball of other elite players, but this never applied to Dempsey.

The Texan’s game has always featured stand-out individual skill combined with the mentality and athleticism to play well against any opponent, and even at two goals shy of Donovan’s goal-scoring record, Dempsey must be considered superior to Donovan for his playing resume and skill-level.

Donovan was the first of his kind for an American soccer player, but continuing to not consider Dempsey the best American soccer player ever is simply disrespectful and off-base. We continue to hear forming U.S. Men’s National Team players saying that Dempsey isn’t better than Donovan, yet they can’t support their position with any evidence. Donovan was great, but he wasn’t as great as Dempsey was and is.

Once the reality of Dempsey’s proximity to Donovan’s scoring record really sinks in, people won’t be so quick to declare Donovan better than Dempsey. Honduras isn’t a good opponent, but the United States needed to beat Honduras to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, which is when Dempsey scored three goals, none of which were tap-ins. These goals were a sliding blast into the top corner with a defender hanging all over him, a goal scored past two defenders and a goalkeeper off the dribble, and a world-class free kick to the far post from outside the box.

 

The United States Routs Honduras with Attack-Heavy Lineup

The United States Routs Honduras with Attack-Heavy Lineup

Bruce Arena fielded an attack-heavy U.S. Men’s National Team lineup with only one defensive midfielder, and it allowed the U.S. to destroy Honduras 6-0. Previous coaches of the United States, including Arena, were always reluctant to field lineups with multiple creative attacking players who could facilitate possession and proactive play, but Arena’s lineup allowed for lots of combination play and goals. He started Sebastian Lletget, Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore all at the same time. American soccer fans have been waiting for the United States to beat a decent opponent with skill instead of just hustle and heart for a long time.

Max Bretos of ESPN commented on social media during the game that Clint Dempsey had been waiting for five years for a player like Christian Pulisic who could feed him passes and combine with him, and how true this is. Dempsey and Pulisic were also combining with Lletget, Nagbe, and Altidore, who displayed a massive improvement in his ball control and deftness in tight spaces with little time to think and react.

Even without Bobby Wood starting, the United States was stretching the Honduran defense as Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore, and Lletget all took turns making runs. Arena deserves lots of credit for fielding such an attack-minded lineup, and the decision to use Pulisic as a Number 10 or attacking midfielder rather than using Sacha Kljestan was key to opening up the Honduran defense and getting the most out of Altidore and Dempsey.

Arena was also fairly bold in his decision to let Jorge Villafaña start at left back where he displayed attacking skill going forward along with the endurance, speed, and defending to mark Honduras’ attackers. Villafaña always slowed up his attacking counterpart either by getting in front of him or dispossessing him. Even when Villafaña was beaten or out of position, he recovered enough ground to prevent any dangerous advances on the USA goal.

The United States will be without Lletget for the next World Cup qualifier against Panama, but Arena should be praised again for calling up Paul Arriola to replace him, as Arriola brings many of the same attacking and technical qualities that Lletget brought to the right wing. Alejandro Bedoya did a fine job of subbing in for Lletget after Lletget was hacked and injured, and using Bedoya against Panama would be acceptable since he showed more impact and effectiveness than in recent previous appearances.

Whether the coach of the United States uses Kellyn Acosta in the midfield with Bradley or goes with Bedoya or Arriola in a line of three attacking midfielders, the U.S. should have more than enough quality, speed, and verve to beat Panama on Tuesday in Panama. Look for Arena to field a similar type of proactive lineup again, even if that means using Acosta as a central midfielder to be Bradley’s deputy because Acosta brings aggressive, direct, and skillful play to the team.

Big Bruce overloaded the USA lineup with technical and creative attacking players against Honduras. Will he do it again against Panama, and will it signal a change in the United States’ playing style?

Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood Can Form the United States’ Best Forward Partnership

Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood Can Form the United States’ Best Forward Partnership

Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood can form the United States’ most creative and deadly strike duo, which means a spot on the bench for Jozy Altidore. Bruce Arena will likely start Altidore against Honduras no matter what, but Wood is the more talented striker, who has been scoring impressive goals in the Bundesliga.

For a while now, many have viewed Wood as just a nice foil or complement to Altidore as the Number 9, but Wood is a more skilled, more active, and more aggressive striker, which makes for a better partner for Dempsey. When Wood first started playing for the United States, he surprised a lot of people by scoring impressive goals in consecutive games, but after a while, it became clear that these goals weren’t just lucky goals in international friendlies.

Dempsey has long been in a class of his own for the United States, and he hasn’t had a smooth and creative center forward to combine with. When Obafemi Martins was playing with Dempsey for the Seattle Sounders, you could see how Dempsey thrived when he had a strike partner who played his same brand of one-to-two-touch street soccer. With Wood as the center forward, Dempsey will once again have a strike partner who plays quicker and smarter than Altidore, who still slows up the pace of play too much without enough movement off the ball or direct attacking play.

The upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama are must-win games for the United States, and the U.S. must go straight for the jugular with Dempsey and Wood in the attack. Dempsey is fully fit to play, and if Wood is also healthy, then these two have a greater capacity to score on Honduras and Panama than a Altidore-Wood partnership.

When Altidore plays, the American attack is slower and less deadly, and Wood is a true Number 9, even though his style of play is facing the goal and looking for balls played to his feet or into space. Nothing says that a center forward has to play with his back to goal and hold up play, and Wood’s style of play is more effective and more impressive.

When Arena makes his starting lineup for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, he would be wise to partner Dempsey with Wood because Dempsey doesn’t need any time to get used to playing with Wood. Dempsey just knows how to play, and anyone that aggressively attacks the goal will be welcomed by Dempsey.

Starting Dempsey with Wood should bring out the most in both players, and it will cause opposing defenders to have a hard time deciding who to focus on, which will leave one attacker in a dangerous scoring position.

Where Does Clint Dempsey Rank All-Time Among United States Soccer Players?

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.

Salute to Clint Dempsey

Salute to Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey is the best American soccer player ever, even better than Landon Donovan, but Dempsey’s skill and career remain underrated.

The Texan has displayed a level of advanced technical ability and creativity that no other American soccer player has ever displayed. American soccer still hasn’t produced many players who can smoothly execute individual skill against elite opponents in a game setting.

Even at 33 years old, Dempsey’s skill level, speed, and fitness suggest that he might still be in his prime.

Many observers still view Dempsey as inferior to Landon Donovan in skill and accomplishments on the field, and that’s unfair. Dempsey is often praised for his toughness and will to win, and while these are indeed great qualities of his, they neglect to mention his skill, creativity, consistency, and effectiveness. At his core, Dempsey is a player whose play is based on technical skill with the ball and the ability to display above average technical qualities against top competition.

While many of the American soccer players are essentially just hustle players and mentally strong players, Dempsey has always displayed a comfort and mastery with the ball that American players have normally lacked compared to players in Europe and Latin America. He has also showed more hustle and more mental toughness than his American counterparts.

The real gap between American soccer players and their better counterparts in Europe and Latin America is the absence of the first touch and overall ball skills to play smoother and faster.

With these real gaps between American soccer and the better varieties in mind, it puts Dempsey’s accomplishments and abilities in the right perspective. Consistently displaying refined and advanced technical ability along with a real talent at avoiding injuries is a real achievement.

There have been multiple interviews about Dempsey’s childhood and hard road to becoming a professional soccer player in the United States and in the United Kingdom, but a strong argument can be made that Dempsey really is underrated and underappreciated by American fans and journalists. Fans and journalists outside of the United States sometimes scoff at Dempsey for being good by not quite elite, but their standard is essentially a logical fallacy where unless Dempsey is a top player for one of only a few elite European clubs, then he is just mediocre in those critics’ eyes.

By any standard, Dempsey is a creative and technically-skilled attacking player who can dribble, pass, and score against top competition, and he’s displayed a facility at playing with both feet and scoring with his head. Elite club teams and national teams were never able to intimidate and psych out Dempsey as he routinely showed them zero respect.

Returning to the Donovan comparison, even the biggest Donovan homer must admit that Dempsey has a better club playing resume where he played in a better league (the EPL) against better competition. He also has an almost identical goal-scoring rate and tally as Donovan at the international level, and Dempsey can’t be accused of ever playing small or being bullied by opposing players and teams.

When Dempsey retires in several years, he deserves to be recognized as not only the most accomplished American soccer player ever but also the most talented and technical player. American soccer has seen Donovan or Tab Ramos, but neither of them displayed the level of technical skill and creativity that Dempsey not only showcased but showcased consistently for over a decade.

What really made Dempsey a pioneer for American soccer was how everyone could see that this player represented a new level of skill with the ball for American players. Dempsey proved that American players could be creative, technical, and effective even against world-class competition. That’s what Dempsey gave American soccer fans and players: the proof that Americans could be players that people in other countries recognized as truly skilled.

In the video included with this post is an interview that Clint Dempsey did with Colin Cowherd, and it’s perhaps the most illuminating Dempsey interview as Dempsey normally doesn’t say too much in his interviews.