Dempsey set to brave new ground for American soccer

Yesterday Fulham advanced to the Europa League final with a 2-1 aggregate win over Hamburg. It is a huge victory for Fulham, which faced near relegation just a few years ago. But more importantly, this gives Clint Dempsey a chance to become the first American to play in the finals of a European club competition.

How do you like me now?

Dempsey has certainly had a fantastic year, having scored a number of key goals for his country and club. The topper of course came when he scored probably the biggest goal in the history of one of the oldest clubs in England, sending Fulham through to the Europa League quarters over Juventus.

As great as this success is for Clint, it says even more about the state of American soccer today.

Dempsey is not just some spare occasionally getting a run for a second tier club. He is a legit star and part of the core of Fulham’s franchise.

Mind you, Europa League is no Champions League (for the casual US sports fan, best analogy would be the NIT), but Clint is preparing to scale heights that would have been simply inconceivable for an American soccer player just a few years ago.

We thought that US soccer had shot the moon when Alexi Lallas became the first American to make the Italian Seria A, but he played for a terrible team that was relegated shortly after Lallas arrived.

Today it is routine enough for US players to play at the highest levels of European soccer that there are entire blogs devoted to weekly rundowns of our lads competing abroad. The novelty has largely worn off, and most of our team at this summer’s World Cup will be foreign-based players.

But Clint is doing something different. They simply love him in West London. His goal against Juventus even spawned its own t-shirt.

The "Dempsey Chip" Shirt

Clint has the potential to do for American soccer what Drazen Petrovic did for European basketball fifteen years ago. He is changing hearts and minds and making it easier for the Stuart Holdens of the world – the next generation of American soccer talent – to succeed or fail on their own merits at the highest levels of world club soccer.

So good luck, Clint. Here’s hoping that you keep doing Nacogdoches, TX proud and showing everyone what American soccer is all about.

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