Growing up in Nacogdoches, Texas, Clint Dempsey dreamed of one day playing in the World Cup. Before going to sleep each night, he would pray that the hard work he put in and the sacrifices his parents made in making the six-hour round trip drive to Dallas for training on his youth clubs would pay off.
Now 31, Dempsey is the first American to score in three World Cups. After an arduous journey that led him to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, he is now back in Seattle. On Friday after his first training session back with Sounders FC, he talked about the realization of that dream.
“For me it was really special. I never knew if I was going to play in one World Cup,” Dempsey said. “I remember when I was a kid, going to bed that was what I would pray about and dream about. I hoped that one day I could do that. Being able to relive that dream three times and being the captain of the National Team during the World Cup … to be a part of that was pretty special.”
Dempsey had two goals in the tournament, giving him four in his World Cup career. His first this tournament came just 29 seconds into the opener against Ghana. The captain was among the top U.S. performers in the tournament despite playing a bit out of position as a target forward, once Jozy Altidore suffered a tournament-ending hamstring injury in the first half against Ghana.
Advancing out of Group G wasn’t altogether unexpected, but with Germany, Portugal and the always-pesky Ghana, it was an improbable result.
The team displayed the typical resolve of the U.S., but did so with more talent on the field than in previous years. That helped the Americans reach the Round of 16 for the second consecutive tournament, something that the U.S. hadn’t done before.
While that does show the advancement that has been made in U.S. Soccer, it doesn’t take the sting out of the overtime defeat to Belgium in the knockout stage.
“It’s good because that’s two World Cups in a row that we were able to advance out of the group and get to the knockout stages. But still it hurts to go out because you want to keep going and go as far as possible,” Dempsey said. “You never know how many World Cups you can be a part of. You want to do something special and get on a good run. We fought hard, we showed a lot of character. We just came up a little bit short.”
Now back with Sounders FC and preparing for Sunday’s tilt with the Portland Timbers, Dempsey’s focus shifts to the remaining schedule of the MLS season. He still has his thoughts about his future with the U.S. National Team. However, it’s too early, he said, to start eyeing the 2018 World Cup when he would have the opportunity to become just the fourth player in history to score in four straight tournaments.
However, the 2016 Copa America tournament is within his reach and is an event he hopes to participate in.
“I am going to continue playing with the national team as long as possible. I’m going to push to be a part of Copa America, for sure. If you’re able to still play at a high level and perform, then you can be one of those players that are able to play at the international level for a long time,” Dempsey said. “But you have to continue to perform and it’s about putting in the work. Hopefully I can stay fresh, stay sharp and stay productive enough that I can keep getting called in.”