Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obscure Athlete Watch: Clint Dempsey

In an attempt to start a series of new articles here on SportsFreakers, I Xavier Hutchinson, frequent blogger of the niche sports, will attempt to introduce you to a great athlete you, the loyal and growing SportsFreakers readership, may never have heard of before. He or she might be a mid-major college basketball player, up and coming hockey player, or a young golfer. But today I will start with an athlete from the most polarizing yet fastest-growing sport in America: soccer.

I'll admit, I had never heard of Texas-born Clint Dempsey until the summer of 2006, when the United States was competing in its fifth straight World Cup. Dempsey was memorable for his goal in the USA's win-or-go-home contest vs. Ghana (they went home after a 2-1 loss due to some horrendous officiating and even worse coaching by Bruce Arena).

In addition to the goal, Dempsey impressed with both hard work and creative play. He's perhaps the most dangerous American-born player in the world when given the ball in open space. He's also willing to track back and defend, even when he's playing forward (ask Cristiano Ronaldo about defending and he will laugh in your face).

These characteristics led to a transfer from the New England Revolution of MLS to Fulham of the English Premier League. The transfer fee of $4 million was, at the time, the largest for an MLS exile.

So let's fast-forward. After a very solid season and a half with Fulham in which he scored numerous big goals and became a fan-favorite, Dempsey had struggled at the start of this season. Fulham's newest coach, Roy Hodgson, was not the man who engineered Dempsey's transfer, so he had begun to restock Fulham with new players in order to improve the Cottagers' chances of finishing higher than 17th place in the 20-team league as they did in 2007-2008 (just one spot above the relegation zone). It seemed that Dempsey did not fit in Hodgson's plans, as he was used mostly as a late-game substitute.

But the last two months have seen a return to form for Dempsey amidst rumors that he would be sold during the January transfer window. He's started in Fulham's last six games and has netted two goals, the latest coming yesterday at home against Middlesbrough in a 3-0 win.

So just like in American-based sports (see, soccer isn't that different!), it's clear that one of two things is happening. Dempsey is either back in the fold and will be a part of Fulham's future plans, or more likely, Fulham are showcasing him in hopes that they will be able to pull in big money by selling him to another club.

Whatever the case, Clint Dempsey has reasserted himself as the best American player plying his trade in Europe (excluding goalkeepers, where several Americans have already excelled and will continue to). Young Jozy Altidore and potentially Landon Donovan may challenge him for that honor, but Dempsey deserves some recognition. And SportsFreakers has given it to him.

Here are some places to go to learn more about Clint Dempsey:

This is American Soccer
Yanks Abroad


The Sherm said...

I nominate Paul Robinson for next week's Obscure Athlete

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