Clint Dempsey will take it back to where it all began when the Seattle Sounders visit FC Dallas in their Western Conference clash at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Saturday (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE Game of the Week).
Dempsey originally hails from Nacogdoches, a small Texas town located about three hours east of Dallas. He may be a Seattle resident now, but when examining Dempsey’s career trajectory, a look at his roots sheds plenty of light on exactly how he became one of the most prolific American soccer players of his generation.
After originally refining his game on the fields of Nacogdoches, Dempsey earned a spot with the Dallas Texans, one of the top youth soccer clubs in the country. He labored through rigorous six-hour round-trip travel days between Nacogdoches and Dallas and performed well enough at college showcases to earn a scholarship to Furman University.
“A lot of hungry kids, a lot of competition,” Dempsey said of his time with the Texans. “I think that brings the best out in the players.”
Dempsey said his original goal was to lock down a college scholarship, with the prospect of taking his game to the professional ranks only arising later.
“That was always the plan, to try and get a scholarship,” he recalled. “That’s why we were driving to Dallas. Through playing club you can play in college showcases and hopefully get a scholarship, so that was kind of the game plan. When I got into college and started seeing other players that I played with going pro, you realize it’s a possibility.”
Dempsey is just one of several professional players with international pedigree who once suited up for the Texans. Brek Shea, Omar Gonzalez, Lee Nguyen and Alejandro Moreno also parlayed the experience into standout professional careers and national team caps.
Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, who is familiar with the Texas youth soccer scene dating back to his days as the head coach at UCLA, offered up a one theory as to why the Dallas-Ft. Worth area has had so much success cultivating youth talent.
“The youth soccer has always been good all the way back to when they started their Classic League,” Schmid said. “It’s just been really good because what they did early on with the Classic League is basically the 10 best clubs played against each other, so it was always narrowed down.
“I think that leads to a set of games that are good games, because you’ve got 150-200 of the best players spread out between teams. I think they did that concept a little bit earlier than others. I think that’s a good concept and one that allowed those guys to grow and develop.”