Ever since Clint Dempsey’s emergence onto the national team during the 2006 World Cup, fans have debated their favorite U.S. national team player. For a good many, the conversation boils down to two players, the aforementioned Dempsey and Landon Donovan.
With two massive qualifiers coming up against Costa Rica and Mexico, Dempsey is set to play despite having been sidelined with an injury the past month. Donovan is still on hiatus.
Donovan’s absence and Dempsey’s willingness to fight through pain to play for his country begs the question: has Dempsey won the hearts of U.S. fans and claimed the mantle of the most popular player on the team?
In many ways, Dempsey’s professional path is something a good chunk of fans have always wanted from Donovan—a career that originated in MLS, blossomed in a top European league and excelled with a transfer to a team with Champions League aspirations.
Where Dempsey seems to have never been satisfied with his situation, always aspiring for a new challenge, many perceive Donovan’s decision to stay with the LA Galaxy as a waste of talent. To this group, Donovan’s responsibility should have been to try to make it the highest level; not only for the sake of his own skills but for the reputation of American soccer.
Those types have always been, and will forever be, in Dempsey’s camp.
The rest have understood Donovan’s decision differently. For MLS advocates, Donovan staying in the league adds credibility. It offers an ambassador—a talented ambassador—for MLS to build around.
Then there are the clutch goals. Those that prefer Donovan get teary-eyed when they remember the Algeria goal in South Africa, the give-and-go with Charlie Davies against Brazil in the Confederations Cup or the brilliant header against Mexico in South Korea.
These folks—who loved Donovan in spite of his club inertia, or loved him for it—might feel differently about him now given the state of the U.S. team.
Fans come in all shapes and sizes. The veracity, lunacy and rationality for which they go about their fandom is different for everyone
While some understand Donovan’s desire to get away after years of soccer-filled days and months, it still frustrates even the most understanding of fans simply because of how desperately the national team needs his service. His style is exactly what the team is missing. His presence, or lack thereof, is severely felt.
This argument alone suggests that Dempsey has taken Donovan’s crown as most popular U.S. national team player.
If not, for anything, that Dempsey is putting on the colors while Donovan is not.
There is still much to be written in regards to the legacies of both Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Their reign atop U.S. soccer has been a wild ride.
Donovan can win back even the most bitter of national team fans.
A good start would be to make himself available for the next qualifying match against Jamaica. Tarnished memories of one of the best players in U.S. soccer history would fade quickly were Donovan to gloriously return and score big goals in critical games once again.
For now, fans will have to rely on their favorite Texan, Clint Dempsey, to wear the hero cape once donned by Landon Donovan.