Dempsey not certain World Cup goal counted
PRETORIA, South Africa – Clint Dempsey wasn’t even sure his goal counted in the U.S.-England opener at the World Cup.
His 25-yard drive bounced twice and into the arms of goalkeeper Robert Green, then squirted out in soccer’s version of hot potato.
“I didn’t know exactly that it went all the way to net or not, but I just wanted to see what the linesman was doing,” Dempsey said. “I saw the linesman running back with his flag, so I knew that they counted the goal and I just went and celebrated with the whole team on the bench.”
Dempsey’s goal tied the score Saturday and gave the United States a 1-1 draw; now it’s on to Friday’s game with Group C leader Slovenia, which opened with a 1-0 win over Algeria.
A victory would push the United States toward the knockout phase for the first time since 2002 and help erase the lingering memories of the 2-1 loss to Ghana that eliminated the Americans four years ago.
The 27-year-old midfielder from Nacogdoches, Texas, is becoming one of the most accomplished goalscorers in American soccer history. Having also scored against Ghana in 2006, he joined Brian McBride (1998 and 2002) as the only U.S. players with goals in multiple World Cups.
His out-of-nowhere 20-yard chip against Juventus in March, which put Fulham in the Europa League quarterfinals, is the most inventive big-goal score by an American in Europe, one that became instantly famous at Craven Cottage and caused the club to sell commemorative T-shirts.
This is not your average American trying to make it in the world’s game.
“He is still a player with some flair, some attacking ability, some creativity, a guy with a great competitive edge and somebody that has a nose to get goals and an aggressiveness in the box to score, and score different kinds of goals,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley said.
Known as “Deuce” for the rap recording he once cut, Dempsey developed his early soccer skills playing with Mexican immigrants. He played club soccer in Dallas, attracted attention and went to Furman, where he played alongside current national team midfielder Ricardo Clark.
After playing for Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution from 2004-6, Fulham acquired him for a $4 million transfer fee. He scored six goals in his first full season with the Cottagers, eight in 2008-9 and nine last season. Many big goals, too, like the one against Liverpool in May 2007 that pretty much ensured Fulham wouldn’t be relegated to a lower division.
“I think I’ve become more of a complete player,” he said. “I think a weakness before I went over there was my defense, and I think that I’ve shown that, you know, now that that’s a strength of mine. And I think the speed of play in which I play, being able to see passes early, I think that’s improved being over there.”
Paired with Landon Donovan on the midfield wings, Dempsey and Donovan give the U.S. soccer team much of their offense. Last year, Dempsey scored in consecutive games against Egypt, Spain and Brazil at the Confederations Cup as the U.S. reached a FIFA men’s outdoor final for the first time.
Against England, the United States fell behind when Steven Gerrard broke in alone on Tim Howard and scored from short range in the fourth minute. Dempsey tied it on a long-range shot many American players wouldn’t even try, winding up with his 19th goal in 63 international appearances.
Because they fell behind early, American players had to push the game without opening up their defense too much.
“The whole idea was, ‘Don’t concede early,’ and that’s what we did: concede early,” Dempsey said. “And it’s like, ‘Damn!’ But I thought we responded well.”
World Cup goals mean far more to him than club goals, because he longed dreamed about scoring for his country in the big game. With wins against Slovenia and Algeria, he would get to move on to the next phase – the chance to score in a World Cup knockout match.
“Not to say that this team is so much better than the team we had in ’06, but we like to think we’re moving in the right direction,” Dempsey said.
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