Meet Clint Dempsey, a 29-year-old United States national team forward and arguably the most talented field player American soccer has ever produced. Dempsey is currently the third leading scorer of all time for the men’s national team, and he expects to continue to rise up the ranks as the face of U.S. soccer.

All-time leading scorer Landon Donovan even recently suggested he might hang up his cleats in the near future. Unlike Donovan, Dempsey’s rise to success has taken place across the Atlantic. He made what many feared was a premature leap from MLS to Fulham, a decently competitive English Premier League club, in 2007 and quickly found success as the side’s main source of attack.

Dempsey was named Fulham’s player of the year for the 2010 and 2011 seasons and was voted the fourth best player in the EPL at the conclusion of last season. In South Africa in 2010, he became just the second American ever to score in multiple World Cups and, this past January, became the first American player to score a hat trick in the most competitive soccer league in the world.

Beyond success on the field, Dempsey has significantly improved the global profile of American soccer. He’s moved up the soccer hierarchy and now starts for Tottenham Hotspur, a perennial Champions League contender and one of the best teams in England. Dempsey exemplifies American soccer’s raw tenacity, perhaps most evidenced by his game-winning goal in the Americans’ upset victory over Italy in a February 2012 friendly match.

Over the course of his career, Dempsey has taken a few punches — of both the physical and metaphorical variety — and has returned some blows of his own. He suffered a black eye in a 2010 Europa League quarterfinal matchup against Juventus, only to come back and score what many considered to be the goal of the year on a turn-around chip shot from more than 20 yards out. Dempsey also took a blatant elbow to the face in the deciding game of the 2010 World Cup group stage and, following a narrow 1-0 win, gave postgame interviews with a bloody mouth.  The Texan now displays his fighting persona for the world to see — his left bicep is inked with a picture of St. Michael, a detailed illustration depicting a war angel standing victorious over another man.

It should have come as no surprise, then, when Dempsey released comments last Thursday — just days before he was to make his return to the stadium where thousands of fans still don his jersey — that said he felt unappreciated and unvalued by Fulham. Tottenham won Saturday’s London Derby 3-0, leaving the Fulham faithful to wonder what could have happened had Dempsey stayed. Dempsey’s comments underscored his belief that he was ready to move onto a higher level of soccer and that his talent and ability put him in a position to compete at a level that no other American had ever realized before.

Clint Dempsey isn’t shy about letting people know he is the best, and, for that reason, he’s in the minority in professional sports. Many athletes believe they are the best, but very few publicly disclose it. One of those players that does is legendary Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.

Throughout his career, Bryant has often been hailed as the second coming of Michael Jordan, a tag that will be debated for decades after his retirement from basketball. Kobe’s reputation as the antagonist makes him even more comparable to Dempsey as a player. A Google search of “Kobe Bryant fight” reveals a laundry list of his physical encounters with opposing players, including mouthing the words “I’m better than you” to then-league MVP Allen Iverson on national television.

Kobe was recently asked about his thoughts on a Division III basketball player’s scoring 138 points in a game. His response? “If you score 138 points in a game, you have the license to tell people off.” Similarly, after losing to the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Bryant said, “I’ll kick everybody’s ass in this locker room if we don’t fix things.” Kobe knows he’s the best player on what should be the best team in the league, and a win is expected every night. He made it known, though more vibrantly than Dempsey did, that he won’t settle for mediocrity.

You’ll never see LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Landon Donovan or Michael Bradley make comments like the ones Dempsey and Bryant routinely make. But for those two superstars, success is dependent on it. Clint Dempsey has enchanted the American soccer world the same way Kobe Bryant took over basketball, and both continue their pursuit of greatness with the same approach that’s gotten them to the pinnacle of their respective sports.

 

Matt Bell is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. This is the final appearance of FRESH OUT OF PHILLY this semester.

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