On a drizzly Wednesday morning at Gillette Stadium, New England Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey admitted he was still coming to terms with the news that he has made the USA roster for the World Cup.
"Once I get to the camp I guess it will hit me. I don't think you can prepare yourself for it because you don't really know exactly what is going to happen," said Dempsey, who, but for a little help from his family, might still be wondering whether he made the list after suffering some badly timed computer problems. For him, the news could not have come from a better person.
"My mom actually opened up the email because my Internet was down and she called me five minutes before the show was on and she was screaming and crying. I'm glad it was her that called me because (my parents) were the ones that took me to play in Dallas when I was young.
"My dad sold his boat so that we could afford things and they were there with me, sacrificing long hours on the road. It was great for them to see that because it seems like, in my life, I have had to struggle for everything I've got, so to finally start getting things is great."
From those most humble beginnings, the story of Dempsey details a meteoric rise, which included a three-year stint at Furman before he was drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 2004 SuperDraft by the Revolution. An outstanding first season followed in which he scored seven goals, won the MLS Rookie of the Year award and made his international debut as a substitute against Jamaica.
Perhaps inevitably, Dempsey's second season as a professional saw his momentum slow down as opposing teams became more used to his game and adapted accordingly. Though his statistical output of 10 goals and nine assists was impressive, patchy form on USA duty last summer led Bruce Arena to admit that the young Texan was not the 'finished product' at the top level and that he was still trying to work out where Dempsey fitted best on the field, mentioning only that he knew "the closer he can get to goal, the better."
Having fallen just short of MLS Cup success with his club last November, Dempsey headed to the national team training camp in January as a player firmly on the World Cup bubble who had plenty of questions still to answer. From day one in California, he showed increased maturity and confidence in his game, which, coupled with his undoubted natural ability, made him almost a certainty to make Arena's final roster.
Goals against Japan and Poland certainly helped too, but it is the evolution of Dempsey's all-around game, which now features a more consistent ability to make better decisions on the field, that has been most impressive. The hunger and desire to get to and stay at the top, believes the man himself, is what has led to his outstanding form.
"You have to just stay focused and not be satisfied with where you are because everyone else is working hard and trying to come up. I just keep trying to better myself and it has paid off but I need to keep that same attitude if I want to go on further."
With that in mind, do not expect Dempsey to be content to make up the numbers in the USA squad. In recent games, he has shown good form on the right side of midfield and must be considered the favorite to operate there on June 12 against the Czech Republic. With his ability to go past opponents and a keen eye for goal, Dempsey carries the potential to be a difference maker for Arena's side and is determined to make the most of his chance.
"You always want (to start); that would be the ideal situation," said Dempsey. "All you can do is work as hard as you can and do your best. There is a lot of great talent on the team and it's going to be a tough challenge. I wouldn't want it any other way; I wouldn't want it just given to me."
A self-confessed soccer fan, Dempsey is well aware of the history of the World Cup and is excited about making the most of his opportunity to be a part of its 2006 version. Having come so far and from such humble beginnings, the next stage of Dempsey's soccer education looks set to catapult him into the eyes of the watching world and he is determined to enjoy every minute of it.
"I watched the 1986 World Cup on tape after it took place. That was my first glimpse of the World Cup. In 1994, I was able to go to some of those games and have been following it ever since then. I want to take in the full aspect of it and appreciate it even more. The main thing is to focus on what I have to do, which is being on the field and giving it everything."
Andrew Hush is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.