Dempsey feels like a 'lottery winner' on cusp of Donovan's U.S. goals record

Clint Dempsey said he feels like he and his family won the lottery when reflecting on his long career as a club and U.S. national team professional.

Dempsey, 34, is one goal shy of equalling Landon Donovan's record of 57 career goals for the national team and two away from being his country's all-time leading scorer.

Ahead of his team's friendly against Venezuela in Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, the Seattle Sounders striker recalled his time coming up through the youth ranks when his father would drive him three hours to and from soccer practice from Nacogdoches, Texas, to Dallas. The two would routinely purchase a lottery ticket and spend the rest of the trip discussing their plans for the jackpot.

"I feel like I did [win the lottery], in terms of being able to take care of my family in a good way ... Pay them back for all the stuff they did for me," said Dempsey, who played for the New England Revolution, Fulham and Tottenham before signing with Seattle as a designated player in 2013.

Now Dempsey and the team are focused on a pair of World Cup qualifiers following the Venezuela friendly -- at home versus Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 and away to Mexico on June 11.

The U.S. took four points from its last pair of qualifiers in March -- the first competitive games since Bruce Arena took over the reins of the national team following Jurgen Klinsmann's firing in November -- and greatly enhanced the team's chances of earning one of CONCACAF's three automatic spots at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

If the U.S. succeeds in that quest, Dempsey will be in position to join another elite list alongside Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose as the only players to score in four editions of soccer's showcase tournament. In the meantime, he's just trying to enjoy his soccer.

"While you're playing, you try to enjoy it and have fun and make the most of it," said Dempsey. "I've enjoyed my career and hopefully there's a little bit more time left."

Dempsey had a health scare when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat last summer. The Sounders standout missed the final four months of the Major League Soccer season -- including his team's run to the MLS Cup trophy -- but returned to training in January and is off to a strong start for Seattle with four goals.

He also scored a hat trick in his return to competitive action with the U.S. team in March in a 6-0 win against Honduras.

"I'm feeling good," Dempsey said, while admitting the incident has made him stop and smell the roses a little bit more. "I've always been someone who's been competitive. I'm still competitive now. After going through what I went through, I still want to make the most of my career in the time I have left."

Dempsey said he has never brought up the scoring record with Donovan, a teammate at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and now a broadcaster for Fox.

"It's kind of like golf -- you go out there and put up the number you put up," Dempsey said. "Obviously, if there are people in front of you, you kind of know what you need to do. If you're the guy leading the pack, it's up to you to push yourself. That's how you look at it."

Teammate Michael Bradley, who took over the captain's armband from Dempsey, said that attitude and reliability are things everyone who knows him have come to expect of the team's No. 8.

"Clint is a guy who has given us so much on so many days," said Bradley. "Anytime you step on the field with him, you know that he's going to be ready to give everything he has to the team to try to make a difference."

He's driven by a sense of urgency being in the twilight of his career, while adding he's always preferred to let his actions on the field do the talking.

"You keep that same mentality and try to set the tone by your actions rather than by always speaking," Dempsey said. "When you're younger, you're trying to prove yourself and make a career for yourself and take care of your family.

"When you're older, you're trying to stay relevant and show you should still be around and that you can still play at the highest level. You figure out ways to look at things to motivate you and push you to keep going and perform well."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.