Perhaps Clint Dempsey, the man known as “Deuce,” is the greatest American soccer player of all time.
The Texan had an enormous impact on me as a child growing up in the Boston area. Dempsey’s scrappy goals and occasional appearances on the national team won over my heart. My parents took me to Gillette Stadium many times to see the New England Revolution in their “glory days,“ but when I was there I did not care if Taylor Twellman scored again, if Steve Ralston influenced the match, or if Jay Heaps was playing solid defensively. All I cared about was Deuce. His runs were fantastic as I can remember, along with his skill, but most impressive was his ability to be in the right place at the right time, and willingness to put his body on the line for a goal.
During the same period of time, I saw my first European match. It was the Liverpool vs. AC Milan, the 2005 Champions League Final. I was ten at the time and all I had known was MLS. This match opened my eyes to the world of football. And as any young boy would, I pledged my faith, and naturally my life, to Liverpool Football Club. I have faked sick to be home for Champions League matches and I do put my phone on airplane mode if I have to watch a match on tape delay. As we all know, following a football club is an obsession, but when one gets tied to a local player and international team, things can get complex quickly.
The 2006 World Cup was my first “real” World Cup and when Clint Dempsey was selected to the USA team by Bruce Arena, I lost it. Fortunately, my birthday was just a month before the World Cup finals commenced and of course the #8 was on the back of the new navy blue USMNT jersey.
I’ll never forget being in school, while the U.S. played the Czech Republic. It was torturous to sit in class, but I managed to convince my teacher I had a bad stomach ache, at least 9 times that day, to run to the library every 10 or so minutes to check the score. It was a fun, yet painful experience, and even more so after I learned Dempsey did not start. The U.S. lost the match, of course, leading to their disappointing display in Germany. When the Stars and Stripes played the eventual winners Italy, Dempsey played very well and his match was highlighted by a quadruple scissors, which I practiced for at least a month after the event. Though, the match against Ghana took the cake.
DaMarcus Beasley had frustrated me for years, and in that third group match, he sent another aimless ball into space. At the time, Dempsey was out of the frame and I remember screaming an obscenity at the TV screen, forgetting I was in the presence of my friend‘s parents. Then out of nowhere, Dempsey streaked in like a lighting bolt, and hammered the half-volley past the Ghanaian keeper. Absolutely stunning. That is the joy only football can bring, as a local hero can go abroad and dance in front of cameras broadcasting a match around the globe after scoring a sensational goal. Deuce could not have struck it any sweeter.
In January 2007, after the New England Revolution had lost yet another MLS Cup, with Dempsey coming on as a substitute due to injuries, Fulham snatched the Furman star from Steve Nicol’s team. Thus, my soccer idol had made it to the top league in the world. The only problem being that I supported Liverpool. If the Reds win, I am ecstatic, but if they draw or lose I get stick for a week from the City, United, and Chelsea bandwagon jumpers (it’s been a long few years).
On May 5, 2007, two days after my birthday, Liverpool played Fulham. I never thought Clint would get playing time in the match as he was barely getting any beforehand and Fulham were in the midst of a relegation fight. Of course, I entered a state of shock watching the match when Dempsey scored to give Fulham the 1-0 win. Sure it saved Fulham and I was excited that of all people Clint struck for the Cottagers, but this was my first experience in football where my emotions collided.
Fast forward to December 5, 2011. In between the above dates, Dempsey had led the United States to the Confederations Cup Final and scored notable goals for club and country, the best being his chip against Juventus to put the Cottagers through on that magical European night at Craven Cottage. Meanwhile, Liverpool had a strong season upon Torres’ arrival, but sold Xabi Alonso but have struggled since.
I knew the fixture was coming and it was that time of year when Dempsey had to take on the Reds. I posted on Facebook Sunday nightthat Liverpool would win the match 2-1, with a Dempsey goal coming from inside the six (as most of his goals do). Just three days ago, I was in the school library surrounded by Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Barcelona supporters. The voice of Ian Darke takes one away from troubles, such as homework, until a challenging moment occurs. I heard Darke’s words before I could process the goal. I’ll never forget that moment when Dempsey scored to beat LFC again at Craven Cottage. It was a classic, scrappy Dempsey goal, scored inside the six. When the final whistle blew, I slammed my computer lid and was on the T faster than ever before. I just wanted to get home and forget it all. I felt like my own child had betrayed me. Liverpool had lost, Dempsey had scored.
There are a lot of strange people on the T and I became one of them when I wiped tears from my eyes after that crushing blow. It was amazing to me how one man could come so far from a MLS team in southern Massachusetts, to breaking the hearts of millions wearing red, myself included.
I am proud of Clint for scoring the goal. Yet I can never forgive him for defeating Liverpool. He has saved my country and local club countless times, but when he beats the club I will support until I die, it is was as if a dagger was shoved into my heart.