Growing up in Nacodogches, Texas, Clint Dempsey and his parents used to drive more than three hours each way so he could train and play with elite youth club Dallas Texans. For Dempsey, all the travel and hard work was done with an aim towards one day playing for the U.S. Men’s National Team at a World Cup.
With trips to three different tournaments and a running tally of 135 international caps, he more than achieved that goal. In Saturday's 2-0 Gold Cup Semifinal win vs. Costa Rica, the veteran striker added another major accolade to his decorated career as he drove home an 82nd minute free kick to tally his 57th career international goal, tying Landon Donovan for the most in U.S. MNT history. He accomplished the feat in front of numerous friends and family in Dallas, where his golden years of development occurred.
While the record was something he began aiming for a few years ago, the heart condition that ailed him in the second half of 2016 gave him major doubts. Having overcome that, the record is even sweeter now.
“For me the biggest thing is being able to come back from two heart procedures and to still be playing at this level,” he told ussoccer.com following the USA’s 2-0 Gold Cup Semifinal win vs. Costa Rica. “I didn’t know if I was going to have much time left to be playing the game, and to be able to tell my kids that right now I’m tied for the most goals ever scored for my country -- for me, it was always trying to play in a World Cup and represent your country, but to be able to play in three World Cups and say that I’m one of the leading goal scorers all-time for the U.S., that’s something that’s very special.”
Coming off the bench in the 66th minute, Dempsey didn’t just score the second goal.He also provided the offensive spark and assist which sent the USA on the way to its 10th Gold Cup Final. Just six minutes after entering the match, the veteran forward unlocked the Costa Rica defense with a tidy pass that gave Jozy Altidore a clean lane to goal for the opener in the 72nd minute.
“In the second half I thought Clint did a good job in terms of carving out a quality chance and we took advantage of it,” Altidore said. “It’s definitely a luxury to bring in a guy who is looking to break the record, one of the all-time best players we’ve ever produced. To bring him off the bench when he still has something to give to us, I think that’s pretty big.”
Having managed minutes throughout the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Dempsey said U.S. MNT head coach Bruce Arena spoke to him about the decision to bring him off the bench against Costa Rica, a role he fully accepted coming off a full 90-minute output in the 2-0 Quarterfinal win against El Salvador just three days prior.
“It’s always difficult three days after playing 90 minutes to try to start and play another 90 minutes. When you’re at 34 it’s difficult,” Dempsey said. “Bruce told me that he knew the game was going to be tight and the second half it would open up. He thought I could be someone to come on and make a difference and he was right. When I went out there I just tried to play with confidence, tried to move the ball forward, create for others and create for myself and got into good spots tonight.”
The positions he got in helped push the U.S. to a record 10th CONCACAF Gold Cup Final and put Dempsey on the doorstep of some serious MNT history. Dempsey’s 57 career goals place him third among active international goal scorers, sitting behind only Cristiano Ronaldo (75) and Lionel Messi (58). With his next, not only will Dempsey tie the Barcelona and Argentina great, but also surpass former teammate Donovan, setting a new mark that’s unlikely to be broken for some time. At the moment, he's arrived 57 goals in 19 less caps than the U.S. MNT legend did.
“I couldn’t be happier, could be more proud to be on the field with him,” U.S. MNT captain Michael Bradley said of Dempsey’s output. “He’s a guy who leaves his heart and soul on the field every time he plays for the National Team. For me personally, the chance to be on the field with him on so many big days is something that I’ll always remember. I think for all of us, the fact that he was able to get this goal tonight in Texas – I know he had a lot of family here – is really special.
For now, Dempsey and the U.S. MNT’s main focus will be winning the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final. While a record-breaking goal in the championship match would be storybook in so many ways, lifting the trophy remains the priority.
“I’ve played in three finals,” Dempsey said. “It’ll be great for us to win a trophy on home soil. It’s an opportunity for us to keep building the confidence going into the next four games of World Cup Qualifying and making sure we put ourselves in a position to qualify for Russia.”