Clint Dempsey is struggling. It’s been almost exactly two months since his last MLS goal, and more than 100 days between that goal on June 23 and his CONCACAF Champions League goal. He’s 35 years old, which in sports is ancient.
In MLS he’s the 13th oldest active player, the 11th eldest outfield player. Most of the list above him are starters, and former colleagues. The two keepers are United States National Team players — Tim Howard and Nick Rimando. Six of the outfield players are also USMNT players. Another is former teammate Tyrone Mears. Rounding out the list are Ashley Cole, Zlatan, David Villa and Rod Fanni.
His last shot may sum up his season and his potential future.
Take 2.— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) July 26, 2018
Dempsey almost breaking the record. pic.twitter.com/f3HESpaqFG
Dempsey has not even played since that miss, sitting out the Sounders’ last four games with what the team is calling a “lower-back injury” and hasn’t trained at all ahead of Sunday’s match against the Portland Timbers, his favorite opponent to score against.
But he’s also a legend, both for the United States and for three of his four professional clubs. With New England he helped take them to two MLS Cups. With Fulham Deuce twice was their player of the season, and helped them finish runner ups in the Europa League. He won all three major trophies as a Seattle Sounder.
Clint is a four-time MLS All Star, three-time Honda Player of the Year, three-time US soccer athlete of the year, Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, a Confederations Cup Best XI — legend, undoubtedly.
The Sounders are avoiding Clint Dempsey these days. It’s not that he’s unlucky, but since his last start (June 30 in a home loss to Portland) the team is undefeated in seven. He’s played just 70 minutes (2-0-1 with 7 shots) during that stretch. There have been games where he is not even on the bench, all due to injuries that are not listed on the injury report.
But there’s a chance, maybe born in myth and too infrequent in reality. There’s a chance at another fine moment, another great moment. He can catch that final fish.
Refusing to quit
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat. — The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
Finding his reason
Like Logan, Dempsey removes his personal life from what he does. His moments of openness are rare, and even his most famous quote isn’t something that people heard on the record.
But if you talk to certain people, in certain circles, he’s still out there. He’s in the wilderness wearing camo while fishing and/or hunting with a bunch of people who knows that he plays soccer, but mostly know he’s a guy who understands the wilderness.
It’s not that he’s a loner. It is more like there are lives that he has compartmentalized. One of those lives is fading away. His time of heroes is over. The scowl is still there. The swagger is not.
Maybe it’s the very things that made him a hero that are eating him. There are few that are forever heroes, even in legend. Our modern myths contain these same symbols.
But Logan’s slowed powers aren’t the only thing affecting his health in Logan. It’s clear that Wolverine is sick, and perhaps even slowly dying, from the very beginning of the film. What happened, or why his health is deteriorating so quickly isn’t really explained, at least not at first. And Wolverine’s entire existence pre-X-23 revolves around being alive to take care of Professor X and then awaiting his own death. It’s not until much later in the film that we learn why, exactly, Logan is so sick: the Adamantium in his body is poisoning him. — The Bustle
Logan, the Wolverine, starts his final film with his purpose being to keep his mentor alive. It is a just and noble cause. But it is also less than what he was. X-23/Laura gives him new purpose. Having someone to mentor reawakens Logan. It gives his epic tale a few more moments of glory.
Clint Dempsey spending a few minutes with 16-year-old Ray Serrano after training today is everything I love about this club.— Danny Ciaccio (@DannyCiaccio) August 1, 2018
Maybe Clint needs that purpose again. Maybe he just needs rest. Maybe he needs to escape for a while, hiding on an island and thinking about how close to greatness the United States Men’s National Team was, and how it all fell apart.
Maybe he still carries that burden, even if it isn’t his own fault.
As Dempsey is a bit unknowable at this level we look to parallels in fiction. The aging hero can turn their back on all their power and become something new.
A broken soul, Luke escaped his past. He abandoned his ways. The Rebellion/Alliance went on without him, heroically continuing a path to greatness that didn’t involve one of their greatest heroes. He so removed himself from the known universe that not just Luke Skywalker stopped existing, but the concept of a Jedi no longer felt like history.
Dempsey has a single goal, a single assist, but he still has the power. By expected Goals he should be somewhere around 5 or 6 total.
The power is still within him. He’s still Deuce. He is still Clint M*&^#$%*#()*#@ Dempsey.
If there is an American soccer hero that will catch his marlin, who will sacrifice for his student, who will go down while creating something possibly grander, it is Clint Dempsey.
He has his understudies, a group of kids and young men who look to him as a legendary talent that walks among him — Serrano, Gonzalez, Ocampo-Chavez, Bwana, Wingo, Olsen, Morris. These are his Padawan.
In some future their success will be part of Dempsey’s biography.
A hero’s ending
In the near future the question is deeper. What gets Dempsey back involved in the action of the team? More than 40 days ago Dempsey last scored a goal. The village is starting to give up on him. He is unlucky. The team is on a different path, they fish different waters.
The community still has a Manolin, a Laura, a Rey. There are believers who just need to see that one more moment. Because Clint Dempsey is a legend, and legends write their own myths. That one moment will happen. It will be grand, and the Old Man will finally reconquer the Sea. And then he can rest.
Up the road, in his shack, the old man was sleeping again. He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him. The old man was dreaming about the lions. — The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway