And as he approaches another international milestone, it’s fitting that he return to the site of one of CONCACAF’s most bizarre nights, a 1-0 US qualifying triumph over Costa Rica in near-blizzard conditions back in 2013.
“You deal with crazy things during World Cup Qualifying,” Dempsey told reporters following a training session at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday. “Whether it’s snow, whether it’s flooded pitches, playing on cricket pitches, you just never know what you’re going to deal with. But that’s probably what makes CONCACAF and qualifying for the World Cup so exciting.”
With three games ahead for the Yanks, the Seattle Sounders forward inches closer to another memorable milestone. One more tally would tie him for the US all-time record for career goals scored, currently held by Landon Donovan with 57.
“It would be great to break any record,” Dempsey said. “But it would be even better to qualify for the World Cup.”
The US follows that with an encounter against Mexico at the Estadio Azteca on June 11. Dempsey himself has never scored against El Tri. But he was on the field for that record setting goal by Donovan, a 78th minute strike which solidified a 2-0 win in a World Cup Qualifier in 2013.
Strangely enough, he says neither himself nor Donovan have brought up the record.
“That’s not something we’ve ever discussed,” Dempsey elaborated. “It’s kind of like golf. You put up the number you’re going to put up. If there’s people in front of you, you know what you need to do. But if you’re the guy that’s leading the pack, then it’s up to you to push yourself.”
For a while, it didn’t appear Dempsey would have the chance, when he was sidelined from both the Sounders and international duty last year after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
After he was finally cleared to return to training in January, Dempsey credits his return to the resilience bestowed upon him by his family during his upbringing in the East Texas town of Nacogdoches.
“My parents worked overtime to take care of the kids. [And] I had parents who were crazy enough to drive me to Dallas three hours one way and three hours back for training, for games,” Dempsey said. “I think it comes from the work ethic my parents instilled in me and that hasn’t changed.”
Despite his blue-collar edge, Demspsey admits the episode has given him a little more appreciation for the game now that he’s fully recovered and back to playing.
“Maybe you stop and smell the roses a little bit more,” Dempsey explained. “But I’ve always been someone who’s been competitive. I’m still competitive now, after going through what I went through and I still want to make the most of my career.”
Donovan also had a head start on Dempsey, who didn’t turn pro with the New England Revolution until age 21, after playing three years of college ball at Furman.
So if and when that 57th goal does hit the back of the net, Dempsey will be celebrating as if it were his first all over again.
“It’s cool, something you can really reflect on after your career,” Dempsey said. “While you’re playing, you just try to enjoy it, have fun and make the most out of it.”