Clint Dempsey had already played in a World Cup by the time Bob Bradley took over as coach of the U.S. national team, so there was no doubt about his ability. What was harder to see was Dempsey’s fierce competitiveness.
Bradley quickly became acquainted with that too. Two games into the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, with the U.S. on the verge of elimination, the coach didn’t think Dempsey had played well — and told him so.
“He went crazy,” Bradley remembered Wednesday. “He went off on me like there was no tomorrow. We had an hour back and forth. In the end I couldn’t tell you what was said. But we got it all out on the table.”
When the conversation ended, Dempsey went out and scored goals in three consecutive games, leading the U.S. past top-ranked Spain en route to its only Confederations Cup final.
“This part of Clint as a competitor, and as a guy who wanted to win, that’s the part I’ll always remember,” said Bradley, now coach of the Los Angeles Football Club.
Dempsey, 35, retired Wednesday, the Seattle Sounders announced. He played in MLS for the New England Revolution, as well as the Sounders, and in the English Premier League for Tottenham and Fulham. But he made history with the national team, which he also captained, becoming the only American to score in three consecutive World Cups. In 141 games, third-most all time, he matched Landon Donovan’s U.S. record with 57 goals.
“What an incredible career. It was an honor to play with and against Deuce so many times,” Donovan wrote on Twitter, referring to Dempsey by his nickname.
Dempsey, who played his final game for Sounders last month, will be honored before Saturday’s game against Sporting Kansas City in Seattle.
“After a lot of thought, my family and I have decided that this is the right time for me to step away from the game,” Dempsey said in a statement. “It has always been my dream to make it as a pro. I’m grateful to have been on this ride.”
Dempsey played seven seasons in England, scoring 72 goals in 263 appearances. With Fulham, where he was twice chosen team player of the year, he became the first American to play in a major European championship when he came off the bench in the 2010 Europa League final.
He scored 79 times in 209 MLS games. His only goal this season tied the Sounders’ franchise record of 47 regular-season scores set by Fredy Montero.
“Clint Dempsey is the greatest player in the history of our country,” Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “His mark on both our club and the United States men’s national team is indelible and his … reputation as a trailblazer for our nation in Europe helped pave the way for generations.”