The Clint Dempsey Experiment: An American In The EPL
But in England, Dempsey is one of the Premier League’s best players. During this 2011-12 campaign, Dempsey is in the process of compiling the finest season for an American field player in the world’s strongest and most popular soccer league.
He is the United States’ greatest exported field player and second-best exported player ever (Tottenham’s Brad Friedel has been a keeper in the Premier League since 1997 and has not missed a single match since the 2003-04 season. He’s now 40).
Yet back in the States – save the loyal but few U.S. supporters and Premier League fanatics – Clinton Drew Dempsey exists in obscurity, away from opulent, overt stardom. The land across the Atlantic Ocean makes all the difference between anonymity and celebrity.
His production on the pitch this season is certainly worthy of promotion. This season, Dempsey has been nothing short of spectacular when scoring. In all competitions, he has scored 16 goals including two hat tricks – one in the FA Cup and the other in a Premier League match, making Dempsey the first ever American to score a hat trick in a Premier League match. Fulham has scored 49 goals total this season. Dempsey’s previous career high for goals in one season was 13 – last year. He still has until May to add to his tally.
He currently sits seventh in the top scorers list in Premier League matches with ten. He has been one of the most consistent producers in the entire league upon his arrival.
He also passed legendary American striker Brian McBride’s record for goals by an American in the Premier League last December. The U.S. national team has not had a consistent goalscorer since McBride’s retirement. If Dempsey continues flourishing, maybe he can transfer his Fulham form back home when World Cup qualifying begins.
Not to mention, Dempsey certainly deserves a shot with a Champions’ League-level club (particularly a top-four English club). If he does make such a move, he would certainly excel and be a trailblazer for more Americans to do the same.
There was speculation last summer that the move would occur, but it never did. Perhaps since Dempsey is an American, a particular stigma exists that no matter what he does, the image of an American footballer will be some sort of a joke. The great scorers in the league are English, Dutch, French, what have you. Dempsey is currently the exception, not the rule, for American field players competing in the Premiership.
But there is one other man who is aiding Dempsey, albeit in shorter bursts.
Landon Donovan, America’s all-time greatest player, tried to play in Germany on two occasions – neither time worked out for him. Donovan was comfortable playing back in the United States, despite what many critics believed – that Donovan use his talents against stronger competition in Europe.
Two winters ago, Donovan went to Europe for the third time, but this time he was loaned to the English club Everton. Finally, he showed he was world-class, making ten appearances and notching two goals and four assists. The fans loved him so much, he was treated to a chorus of “USA! USA!” chants during his last appearance. They loved him, and Donovan even declared he was “an Evertonian for life.”
He loved playing there, but to the dismay of Toffee supporters had no intent of making a temporary move into a permanent one. It’s not that Donovan doesn't enjoy playing in Europe from time-to-time, but right now? He’s content playing in MLS. And MLS is happy that Donovan – one of the league’s biggest stars – wants to remain there, because the league has no intention of dealing him.
In a way, it's too bad, because on his current stint back at Everton, Donovan is shining once again. He’s a dynamic force in the field for them and has five assists in eight appearances.
He’s playing with the best and proving he can play at the highest level in the world.
Ten years ago, the exposure Americans had to the Premier League was limited by lack of means to view matches and general interest. The interest is rising, but if Dempsey’s accomplishments were discussed more than a small fraction than football and basketball are on mainstream shows like "SportsCenter," not only could soccer’s popularity rise in the country, but the largest untapped sports market in the U.S. would be accessible to foreign clubs and TV networks.
It’s great to have a story like Dempsey excelling in England. But that hard truth may be that soccer won’t be as popular as the “Big Four” (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL) until the U.S. can regularly produce players of or close to Dempsey’s caliber.
Regardless, if you’re compelled to wake up at an unearthly hour on Saturday, Dempsey and Fulham host Stoke City at 7 a.m. PST. Not a bad match to see the U.S.’ best player in action for the first time.