Throughout his storied, pioneering career, Clint Dempsey was never one to waste time as he climbed from little Nacogdoches, Texas to the sport’s biggest stages. So it was on Monday morning as the US soccer legend spoke to media ahead of his induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame this weekend.
Speaking with an openness that he admitted was rare in his latter years as a player, Dempsey traversed his rise from the dusty trailer-park pickup games of his youth to the fields of MLS, the World Cup and the English Premier League, and shared some views on the current state of the game he now covers as a part-time studio analyst for CBS Sports.
Dempsey on the current USMNT
He started with some frank analysis of the US men’s national team in the wake of their qualification for Qatar 2022.
“We're missing a No. 9,” said the retired striker, who shares the USMNT’s all-time scoring record of 57 goals with Landon Donovan. “I think someone needs to kind of solidify that role and be the main guy. For example, if you're looking at Canada with [Jonathan] David and Cyle Larin, they're both been doing a great job … if one is out, another one steps in and they don't really miss a beat.
“Also, with teams [that are] going to be pressing us, I think that we need to do a better job of building out of the back with our center backs and having that confidence to try to play. So it'd be interesting to see how things play out for the team. I think that they do have the quality to get out of the group [in Qatar]. They’ve just got to be at full strength.”
Along those lines, the former New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders star made clear that he believes that regular minutes and high performance at club level will be essential if Gregg Berhalter’s side are to truly make noise at this fall’s World Cup – starting with, but not limited to, goalkeepers Zack Steffen and Matt Turner. Steffen's the backup at Manchester City, while Turner's soon entering a presumed similar role at Arsenal upon his transfer from the Revs.
“Whoever is going to win that spot is whoever is going to be playing more consistently,” said the 39-year-old. “If you’re not playing consistently for your club that you're on, then you need to go on loan and get those minutes. Because it's all about being sharp when that time comes. So it will be interesting to see what happens for Turner and Steffen in July and August, what decisions are made there.
“Not only the goalies, but I think all the field players as well, they need to be playing for their club teams come August and trying to get on a good run of form,” he later added, “because that's what you're going to need to go far in that tournament.”
Dempsey created some viral moments by proudly expressing his continued support for his national team while working as one of CBS’s featured voices on their USMNT broadcasts. He leveled frank criticism of what he considers a subpar conclusion to their Concacaf Hexagonal campaign, though, which they ended in third place after yet another loss to Costa Rica in San Jose.
“We did create chances, played well at home. We could’ve had little bit better form away from home,” said Dempsey, who's joining FOX's crew for the World Cup. “I think we could have clinched that World Cup qualification in a better way in Costa Rica, because they didn't bring their strongest team – just being able to recognize those big moments and take advantage of them. But saying that, what impressed me about this team is when their back was against the wall for those home games that they were must-win – and there was plenty of them – they were able to figure out a way and see it out.”
Seattle chapter, Hall of Fame spot
As his rapid entry into the Hall reflects, “Deuce” broke new ground in multiple ways, including his sensational return to MLS in 2013 via a multi-million-dollar transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Seattle that marked a new phase in the league’s Designated Player gambit. He noted that two other MLS clubs were in the mix for his services at the time.
“It was between going to the [LA] Galaxy, going to Toronto or going to Seattle, and I wasn't going to come back to the States and not live in the States,” the former Fulham star said. “And then I wanted to go to Seattle over LA because I wanted to go somewhere and try to build a legacy, whereas LA was kind of already established there. So that was kind of my thinking in terms of wanting to play for that club.”
This weekend’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony at FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium marks a poignant form of homecoming for Dempsey, whose family scrapped and scraped to enter him in that city’s competitive youth soccer scene during his childhood despite the six-hour round trip, multiple times a week, it required.
“Those long drives, going to Dallas to try to get the best coaching that I could get and play around the best players that I could be playing against to improve myself, that was sacrifices. That was long hours on the road that my parents would make to give me that opportunity so I could have that platform,” he said.
“So I guess just never take anything for granted, and it also kind of gave me that chip on my shoulder that I was always having to prove myself and nothing was ever easy. But it's what gave me peace in the end also, because it made everything that much better when it all worked out.”
He and his fellow 2022 inductees Shannon Boxx, Hope Solo, Marco Etcheverry, Linda Hamilton and Esse Baharmast will be honored in a ceremony in Frisco on Saturday, followed by a Zac Brown Band and Robert Randolph Band concert that night and FCD’s match vs. Minnesota United Sunday evening.