This Friday, Everton and Fulham will compete in the FA Cup. That means that two of the top American players, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, will line up across from each other. In the lead-up to the match, MLSsoccer.com compares the two players from several angles.
Truthfully, it’s not a fair fight.
In many ways, Landon Donovan is Major League Soccer, the transcendent American talent in a league that has relied on his star power for more than a decade. Meanwhile, Clint Dempsey is almost certainly the best example of an American reared as a professional on these shores but who went abroad to make his mark.
|11 (2001-present)||Seasons in MLS||3 (2004-06)|
|255 (237)||Regular-season appearances (starts)||71 (70)|
|115 (94)||Career goals (assists)||25 (14)|
|20 goals, nine assists in 29 games||Playoff production||One goal, two assists in nine games|
|21.55 starts, 10.45 goals, 8.55 assists||Average season||23.33 starts, 8.33 goals, 4.66 assists|
|20 goals, nine assists (2008)||Career year||10 goals, nine assists (2005)|
|32 (26)||Game-winning goals (assists)||8 (5)|
|MLS All-Time Best XI, MLS MVP (2009), Best XI (2003, '08, '09, '10, '11), MLS Cup MVP (2003, '11), Golden Boot (2008)||Individual honors||Rookie of the Year (2004), Best XI (2005, '06)|
|MLS Cup (2001, '03, '05, '11), MLS Cup runner-up (2009), Supporters' Shield (2010, '11), US Open Cup (2005)||Team honors||MLS Cup runner-up (2005, '06)|
Both will go down in MLS history. But only Donovan has a credible – if not nearly ironclad – claim to the title of the league’s greatest of all time.
And while Dempsey has the clear upper hand when it comes to accomplishments outside of MLS, Donovan’s domestic career is the stuff of legends: 11 seasons and counting of consistent individual brilliance highlighted by four MLS Cup victories, including one at his national team counterpart’s expense.
Smarting from two difficult seasons in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen, a teenage Donovan was loaned to the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001, and the rest is history.
He wasted no time taking MLS by storm, helping lead the Quakes to MLS Cup championships in 2001 and 2003 and cementing his name in Bruce Arena’s national team XI. And although a brief return to Leverkusen in 2005 threatened to derail his MLS legacy, he returned after seven games in Germany to link up with the LA Galaxy, where he has accumulated four MLS Best XI honors, the MLS MVP award and two more MLS Cup triumphs.
Eleven years since Donovan arrived in San Jose with a bleach-blond dye job, he’s MLS’ third all-time leading scorer with 115 goals, and his 94 assists are sixth in the record book. And at just 29 years of age and playing on the league’s top team, Donovan has the opportunity to catch Jeff Cunningham (134 goals) and Steve Ralston (135 assists) and set new benchmarks for which future stars will shoot.
And even apart from his statistical dominance, Donovan comes out on top, albeit narrowly, in direct MLS competition.
The pair went head-to-head in MLS seven times from 2004 to 2006, with Dempsey scoring once while Donovan assisted on three goals and held a crucial 3-2-1 advantage in results. And despite the razor-thin difference, one result in particular trumps the others: Donovan and the Galaxy’s 1-0 victory in extra time at MLS Cup 2005.
Still, Dempsey was no MLS slouch himself, parlaying three brilliant seasons in New England and a cracking World Cup goal in 2006 into a move to the Premier League with Fulham, where he became the most productive overseas American attacker to date while still crafting his legacy.
Before that, though, Deuce burst onto the MLS scene with the Revs after a standout, if under the radar, college career at Furman University. He scored goals, he dished out assists and he had swagger, exhibiting the kind of fiery personality that drew both headlines and attention from opposing defenses.
Dempsey scored eight goals and added four assists in his first season under Steve Nicol, earning him MLS Rookie of the Year. He followed that up with two MLS Best XI seasons – and two MLS Cup defeats – before moving to England, garnering a multimillion-dollar fee for the league and leaving MLS dominance to Donovan.
And maybe that's how it was meant to be; two distinctly different players dominating American soccer in their own spheres.
Get involved in the discussion on Twitter all week: #LDvsCD