One chance, one goal. Clint Dempsey’s life has been about seizing chances.
Less than a minute into their match on Monday, the United States had a 1-0 lead thanks to an adventurous run, matched by a masterful Dempsey finish. His first opportunity near goal was taken head down, full speed ahead. Nothing was going to stop him. Not an oncoming defender and not a helpless goalkeeper. Nor will a broken nose from playing against Portugal.
The same could be said about his path to becoming “Captain America.”
Unlike some of his American teammates who grew up in suburban surroundings, playing at glitzy soccer clubs, Dempsey had a rocky path.
He grew up in a trailer park with two sisters and a brother in Nacogdoches, Texas, and was playing the wrong kind of football. Outgrowing the talent pool in his recreational league, his brother Ryan went to try out for the Dallas Texans, an elite youth soccer club. Ryan’s age group had already selected their team but Clint was noticed by Zeph Badii.
“I said ‘Listen, you need to make sure this boy is playing this level,’” Badii said. “I saw the talent in him and thought, ‘We just have to keep this kid going.’”
It was 170 miles, roughly a three hour drive, from Dempsey’s home to training sessions with his new team. But soon financial difficulties forced Dempsey’s family into a tough decision.
Eldest sister Jennifer was a rising tennis star. Seeing as Clint was still young, his parents opted to support Jennifer financially with her tennis career, leaving 12-year-old Clint angry and upset, and his passion for the sport faded.
Sadly, in November, 1995, his 16-year-old sister Jennifer suffered a brain aneurysm and died. Reinvigorated yet devastated, Clint found new purpose in his pursuit of a soccer career that has led him to MLS, Europe and the captain’s armband in this World Cup.
Dempsey is the X factor in the United States formula of attack. His goal against Ghana sums up what he brings to the pitch — the flair with his cheeky step over before his first touch, the fearless nature with which he ran at his defender, the deadly “no doubt about it” finish, the “don’t mess with Texas” demeanor he carries. No other player on his team brings that.
Then he was lost for the remainder of the match.
With Jozy Altidore leaving the match injured, the teams ability to hold up play disappeared, a role Dempsey either can’t or doesn’t know how play.
This poses the question for the match against Portugal: what do you do with Dempsey?
He has an unsuccessful history playing lone striker and no one on the US bench can play with their back to goal like Altidore can. Aron Jóhannsson’s inclusion didn’t change things much but that could have been due to Ghana not giving the Americans many chances to link the strikers and midfield.