Clint Dempsey is having the kind of season kids dream about. In simple terms, when Deuce finds the ball, it often finds the back of the net.
The American international is tied for fourth in the Barclays Premier League with 16 goals, his most recent tally coming in the 82nd minute against Chelsea, burying another header to secure a draw with the EPL superpower.
This summer, the EPL powerhouses should be lining up to secure his services. Clearly the most in-demand American player in quite some time, has Dempsey finally reached his pinnacle as the best?
Yes. Right now, it seems fair to say Dempsey is indeed the best American soccer player on the planet.
Fulham have come to expect heroics from Dempsey. He has scored 37 percent of Fulham's goals in the EPL this season. Add in his five assists and Dempsey has been involved in 49 percent of his side's scores, the second-highest rate in the EPL behind only Robin van Persie of Arsenal (26 goals and nine assists in 63 team goals).
Dempsey is one of just four players who have been involved in at least 40 percent of their team's goals in the entire Premiership, sharing that honor with van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor and Yakubu.
While Dempsey only netted three of the 12 goals Fulham scored in seven Europa League matches this season, he scored three of the team's five goals in a pair of FA Cup matches.
In all competitions this season, Dempsey has scored or assisted on 45 percent of Fulham's goals.
Dempsey has been just as prolific for the U.S. National Team, recording six goals and two assists in his last 15 games for the American side. Dempsey has played in 15 of the last 20 international contests for the U.S. between 2011 and 2012 and has scored or assisted on eight of the 22 goals (36.4 percent) scored in all games.
If you factor just the games in which Dempsey has played over that span, he has scored or assisted on exactly half of all U.S. goals.
As Dempsey goes, so go club and country.
Still, being the best American player on the planet—or best American field player, as the United States has produced a host of world-class goalkeepers—does not put Dempsey into any elite category of top players in the world. Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, he is not.
(Though, to be fair, Dempsey has been involved in a higher percentage of league goals for his team than Ronaldo has for Real Madrid this season. Still, 22 of 43 is probably not as good as 47 of 100. Yes, Madrid has scored 100 goals this season, just in La Liga.)
We mustn't ignore the fact that while Dempsey is having a great run for both club and country, he hasn't been without his off moments. Dempsey can seem lost at times playing for the national team, not always finding—or being placed in—the right position on the field to showcase his skills.
Like many offensive-minded players, Dempsey can seem disinterested when the ball isn't coming his way. He also shoots a lot and sometimes takes shots even when the scoring chances aren't that great.
Let's also acknowledge Dempsey hasn't always been this prolific. He is the best American player in the world right now, but Landon Donovan still plays at a very high level. Over the same career span as Dempsey, Donovan has been recognized around the world as the best American player ever.
Elevating Dempsey this season is not a knock on Donovan as much as a rightful appreciation of what Deuce has been able to produce.
Dempsey has been on fire, not just filling the net but controlling pace and possession. Dempsey is fifth in the EPL in minutes played (2,963 in 33 games) behind teammate Brede Hangeland and three keepers (including two Americans in Tim Howard and Brad Friedel). Dempsey is fourth in the EPL in fouls suffered with 60, giving his team a steady stream of set pieces in the attacking third.
Dempsey also ranks 47th in the EPL in key passes per game, per WhoScored.com, and has a respectable 82 percent pass success rate, just ahead of like-minded finishers Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney. Dempsey's Average Rating this season is 14th in the entire EPL, the highest-rated player not playing for Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea.
Remember those names, as Dempsey could be suiting up for one of them as soon as this summer. Dempsey still has a year left on his Fulham deal but has made it clear in the past he wants to play in the UEFA Champions League at some point in his career. He recently put aside any contract talks until the summer, a rather clear indication of his intention to leave Craven Cottage.
At 29 years old and in the best form of his life, this is the year Dempsey will need to move, and Fulham would be irresponsible to let him go for nothing after his deal expires next year. If Dempsey does not choose to re-sign with Fulham this year, the club will be forced to deal him.
The question for Dempsey will be where he best fits in. Newcastle is another team that could have eyes on Dempsey this summer if they are able to beat out Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea for one of the top four places in the EPL. Having said that, recent signing Papiss Demba Cisse has 10 goals in nine appearances (on just 25 shots) to combine with Demba Ba, who has 16 goals (tied with Dempsey), up front. Dempsey may not exactly be on their list of immediate needs.
The recent rumors to United make little sense unless Dempsey can slot into the regular 11, perhaps taking the place of Paul Scholes. Dempsey certainly will not take time from Rooney and would be fighting for time with the likes of Chicharito and Danny Welbeck unless United were to drop him deeper into the midfield or move him out wide. Even then, Dempsey would find himself in a competition for minutes with huge established superstars.
It's great to play in the Champions League, if you actually get to play.
A similar issue could happen at Arsenal, unless the Gunners don't re-sign van Persie this offseason and look to Dempsey as someone to defray the loss of his production. The same could be said for star-laden Tottenham, who could be looking for a scorer like Dempsey should the Spurs be unable to permanently sign Adebayor off his loan deal from City.
Then there's Chelsea, who always seems frustrated with the forward position. Even if they ship out Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba, does Dempsey fit with Sturridge, Frank Lampard and Juan Mata? (Note: Anyone could fit in with Mata. Lampard would be the issue.)
There will surely be suitors for Dempsey, and he shouldn't rule out moving from England if his real focus is the Champions League.
Regardless of where he goes, the pressure is about to mount for the American. Not only will his transfer lead to higher expectations at his new club, the higher profile will lead to more pressure to showcase the growing quality of the American game on a much grander stage.
That's exactly what has plagued Donovan his whole career. His first stint in Europe did not fare well, and while he has been an absolute superstar in MLS and a standout in his subsequent loan spells with Everton, he hasn't given himself an opportunity like Dempsey will have this summer.
Should Donovan eventually move to Europe full-time, he would be in extremely high demand. Donovan is still a great American player and maybe more valuable as an all-around performer than Dempsey.
Having said that, it's hard to see Donovan as the best American player right now. Dempsey is just too good to ignore.
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