Sigi Schmid reflects on Clint Dempsey's career: "He was iconic"

Sigi Schmid - Clint Dempsey - share a smile

CARSON, Calif. – Sigi Schmid praised Clint Dempsey's “phenomenal career” and said it was “a privilege” to coach the American soccer icon with Seattle Sounders FC.

Schmid, in charge of the Sounders when Dempsey joined the club in 2013 following eight seasons in England, called Dempsey “a fantastic player” who “deserved all the accolades he's getting” following the LA Galaxy's training session Thursday morning at StubHub Center.

Dempsey, 35, announced Wednesday he was retiring from the game following a career in which he starred for two MLS clubs, made a massive imprint with Fulham in the English Premier League, and equaled Landon Donovan's US national team record 57 goals, in 141 caps over 13 years.

“He was iconic in the sense of he was the one guy who had really broken through [in Europe],” Schmid said. “Claudio Reyna had sort of broken through, and there's guys like [Carlos] Bocanegra, but he was the one forward, along with [Brian] McBride, who had sort of broken through in Europe.

“I think that was important, because that helped establish that, hey, Americans can play. And I think that opened the door for some other players to get over there later. Fulham, obviously, added some Americans [such as] Eddie Johnson [and brought in] players that played in MLS, like a Simon Elliott.”

Dempsey scored 60 goals in 232 games over seven seasons with Fulham, twice winning club MVP honors, and added 12 more in 43 games with Tottenham. He returned to MLS in 2013, and the next year teamed with Obafemi Martins to lead the Sounders to the Supporters' Shield with the first 20-win MLS season – and just one of two in all – in the post-shootout era.

“I think him and Obafemi Martins, the year that they played together, it was magical,” Schmid, who coached Dempsey in Seattle from 2013 until his dismissal during the 2016 season, said. “It was the best two-tandem forwards I had ever coached, because they were just instinctually ... it was like watching kids on the playground.”

Dempsey, MLS's Comeback Player of the Year last season after returning from a heart condition that forced him to miss the Sounders' run to the 2016 MLS Cup title, retires as joint regular-season goals leader for Seattle with Fredy Montero, with 47. He also tallied six times in the playoffs for the Sounders – three last year to lead them into their second successive MLS Cup final – and finishes with 72 regular-season MLS goals in 186 games.

He's the only American male to score in three World Cups and his four World Cup goals for the USMNT are bettered only by Donovan's five. He also scored three goals to lead the US to the 2009 Confederations Cup final, one of them in the 2-0 semifinal upset of Spain.

“When you look at the goals he scored in World Cups and Confederations Cups,” Schmid said, “sometimes we wouldn't have achieved what we did as a country without his goals.”

Dempsey commonly is pitted against Donovan in the debate for the greatest American soccer player, and Schmid said he tries to “avoid those debates.”

“For me,” he said, “that's why Mount Rushmore has more than one face on it.”