In an exclusive interview from the Eight by Eight World Cup special issue, Clint Dempsey talks about his marquee return to Major League Soccer, and why high level youth development in the United States needs to be accessible to all children, not just the ones who can pay for it.
In August 2013, the football supporting community in America entered a collective state of shock: Clint Dempsey, the chosen one, was returning home. At the ripe age of 30, Dempsey chose to leave England’s top flight to anchor one of Major League Soccer’s most exciting franchises, the Seattle Sounders—breathing life, and legitimacy, into America’s outcast professional sports league. Earlier this year, Eight by Eight senior editor Miles Kohrman sat down with Dempsey to discuss the move in the build up to the World Cup in Brazil, and the future of football in America.
You and Michael Bradley have both returned to the MLS in the prime of your careers. Has the MLS has broken the stigma of being a league for aging players? Have you spoken with Bradley about his move?
I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with [Bradley] after his latest move, but he’s someone that really thinks through the decisions that he makes — I’m sure that he felt he was making the right decision, otherwise I’m sure he wouldn’t have done it.
The league has shown that it’s growing, that it’s being more ambitious and trying to get players when they’re in the prime of the careers. It’s a good time for American players that are just coming up, because there is a demand for them if they do well. Growing up, and when I was in MLS, it always seemed that the foreign players were the ones coming in and getting better deals. It’s good to see Americans getting them now—it shows that there’s a demand for domestic players.
Whenever a big-name American player returns to MLS, the narrative seems to focus on how the move may be beneficial for the individual, but could negatively affect the national team.
I think the most important thing is that you’re playing well, playing consistently, and that you’re confident. Those are things that are important for a player. You could be overseas and not be playing—that’s not going to benefit your country. If you look back to the 2006 World Cup, I was playing for MLS and so was Jimmy Conrad, and we were able to play for the national team and perform well in Germany.
I wonder if you can speak a little bit about your relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann. Throughout your move back to Seattle and your loan to Fulham were you speaking with him regularly?
Honestly, I wasn’t speaking with him regularly. I know that he was pushing for players to be playing at the highest level possible—like the Champions League, which was an ambition that I wanted to accomplish. That’s what I wanted to do, and we came really close to that at Tottenham [Hotspur]. But MLS was wondering if I’d be interested in coming back to the States, and they made an offer that I couldn’t refuse—an opportunity to go back and raise my kids in the States and help the growth of MLS.
What do you think is needed to help the U.S. become a force at a global level?
Academies and youth development are a really important part of the future. And making sure that all kids have an opportunity to be around casino online a good level of soccer, to learn and develop—the kids that have money and the kids that don’t. There are a lot of good kids out there that can’t afford to play club soccer, that can’t afford to drive to where academies are. So more opportunities for kids to join programs, academies, and camps that develop youth—I think that’s what will really take the game to another level in the States.
Can American fandom compete with the fervency of the European game? If not, what can it do to get to that level?
Look no further than the stadiums and the fans going to those games. In Seattle you have 45,000 going to games and that’s a bigger crowd than at some of the games in Europe.
I know especially when playing in World Cup qualifiers, you really feel that home advantage and it really pushes you on—I think that’s the reason why we’ve been so dominant and successful in our home games. Having the support behind us in those must-win games has given us the boost we needed. I think they’re doing a great job.
Is football entering a golden age in the US?
Who’s to say what the prime is, where we are in that cycle, or where it can get to in 10 to 20 years? I think it will continue to grow. The exciting thing is we are continuing to qualify for the World Cup—getting there and doing well is what really gets the average person in America interested and gets them to be a soccer fan.
I also thinking playing the game yourself and passing it down to kids is important. When I was growing up, I would say, ‘Hey Dad, let’s go out and throw the baseball.’ But my kids say to me, “lets go kick around the soccer ball,” you know?