With the news of Clint Dempsey's retirement from professional soccer, ESPN FC turned to several of its U.S. soccer and MLS writers to ask whether the U.S. men's national team's joint-leading goal scorer is also its greatest player ever.
Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
Answering the question of whether Dempsey is the greatest U.S. men's player isn't as easy as it sounds. There have been a few goalkeepers -- Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard -- who have at least been Dempsey's equal in terms of club career, and they give him a run for his money in terms of U.S. exploits, too. But scoring goals is the hardest part of the game, and for that reason Landon Donovan is the only other player who comes close to Dempsey. I think Dempsey did more with his club career and played at a higher level for longer, so when you look at what he accomplished for both club and country, you have to give him the nod as the greatest U.S. player ever.
Matt Pentz (@mattpentz)
I initially thought about pushing back against the premise of ranking something as inherently subjective as greatness, but what the heck, I'll bite: Yes, with the qualifier that Dempsey is the greatest U.S. men's national team outfield player of all time. In that specific conversation, it's likely to boil down to Dempsey versus Donovan, the man with whom he will forever be tied with on the list of most prodigious American goal scorers. That debate is something of a matter of personal taste, but Dempsey's time with Fulham in the Premier League -- not just holding his own but starring in one of the world's biggest leagues -- edge him to the very top of my list.
Arch Bell (@ArchBell)
I do consider Dempsey to be the greatest U.S. men's national team player of all time. The biggest stage in all of sport is the World Cup, and no U.S. player has delivered in that tournament like Dempsey did, scoring crucial goals in all three tournaments he played in. He also put the U.S. team on his back during its run to the 2016 Copa America Centenario semifinals with three goals. One must also take into account that he scored fewer goals from the penalty spot than Donovan and achieved that 57-goal mark in fewer games (136 total compared with Donovan's 157). No doubt, he's the best U.S. men's player ever.
Noah Davis (@noahedavis)
Dempsey never seemed to care about our stats or our labels or our narratives. He cared about playing soccer his way, on his terms. That meant scoring goals -- both in audacious, seemingly impossible ways and with scrappy efforts. He was a unique force in American soccer history, a creative attacking dynamo who grew up in a low-income family from the Texas hinterlands. Was Dempsey the greatest player in U.S. men's national team soccer history? Who cares. I doubt he does. The program will never have another player like him -- although it should strive as hard as it can to find many, many more. That's all that matters.