Clint Dempsey, the USA’s second all-time highest scorer, leads the USA against Jamaica in World Cup qualifying on Friday. Dempsey is the subject of the YouthSoccerInsider's latest edition of "When They Were Children."
By Mike Woitalla
He grew up in the East Texas town of Nacogdoches and while a teenager played in Hispanic adult leagues for teams with names such as Zamora, Tampico and El Salvador.
"There were ex-pros and former semipros,'' Clint Dempsey said. ''I learned a lot. Playing with men, you have to learn quickly. It's sink or swim. It forced me to develop."
Dempsey says he grew up admiring the Argentine, Colombian and Brazilian style of play:
"Keeping the ball and making the other team work. The Hispanic league was like that.''
Starting in fifth grade, Dempsey took six-hour roundtrip journeys to Dallas where his play for elite club Dallas Texans paved the path to stardom.
Dempsey was the second of five children and grew up in a trailer in his grandparents' backyard. His mother, Debbie, said, in a 2006 interview with ESPN reporter Wayne Drehs, that expenses for Clint’s youth soccer meant selling her husband's boat, holding off on new furniture, never going out to eat, never going on a vacation -- "Our vacations became soccer tournaments" -- and not buying a new car.
When he won the 2006 Honda U.S. Player of the Year Award, Clint gave the prize, a pickup truck, to his father.
Dempsey, who after playing college ball for Furman and in MLS with New England, has starred in the English Premier League since 2007.
Clint was first introduced to soccer by his older brother Ryan, who said he got a taste of the sport from the Latino kids in their neighborhood. Debbie said she signed her children up for soccer to get them some exercise and Clint's first team was the local rec league’s Strikers.
But he played plenty of ball on his own.
''I was the little kid in a big family,'' he says, ''so I usually had someone to kick around with. When I was alone, I'd juggle, kick against the wall, or dribble around by myself pretending I was in the middle of a big game.''
He said playing in different environments is what helped him become the goal-dangerous, dynamic player he is today.
''The main thing is love of the game,'' said Dempsey. ''You've got to love the game and go out and play with passion. You've got to want to play whenever you can and find a game wherever you can find it.''
Previous editions of the YouthSoccerInsider’s “When They Were Children” series:
Darlington Nagbe, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando, Luis Silva, Juan Agudelo
Mario Balotelli & Philipp Lahm
Nani & David Silva
Cristiano Ronaldo & Danny Welbeck
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andres Iniesta & Andriy Shevchenko
U.S. Women World Cup 2011 (Alex Morgan & Co.)
Logan Pause, David Ferreira, Fredy Montero, Dwayne De Rosario, CJ Sapong, Perry Kitchen, Tim Ream