Deuce's greatest hits: Clint Dempsey's 5 most important USMNT goals
Among Clint Dempsey's 56 international goals are some of the most important the U.S. men’s national team has scored over the past dozen years. They are strikes that sent the Yanks deeper into competitions, brought victory in vital showdowns and historic friendlies, or provided hope, even if only momentarily, that something special might be afoot.
The 34-year-old Seattle Sounders forward just netted four of his biggest in the past week's World Cup qualifiers, a sizzling hat trick in the 6-0 “must-win” rout of Honduras, and the quick finish after Pulisic schooled Felipe Baloy and Roman Torres to claim a crucial 1-1 draw with Panama.
Those goals were important for both team and player. They reinvigorated Dempsey’s U.S. career after an irregular heartbeat last year forced him off the field and into a medical procedure, and they left him just one goal shy of Landon Donovan's U.S.-record. He's already the Americans' career leader in World Cup qualifying goals -- up to 18 -- and the only Yank to have scored in three World Cups.
Deuce is no stranger to big goals for club (Fulham ranks his chip vs. Juventus as the club’s greatest goal) and country. He has scored 19 game-winners in a U.S. shirt. He scored three times as the U.S. reached the 2009 Confederations Cup final, netted seven in the CONCACAF Gold Cup two years ago, and struck down Paraguay and Ecuador en route to last year's Copa America Centenario semifinals. Luck has even been on his side, like in the 2010 World Cup opener, when England's Robert Green fumbled Dempsey’s shot into the net.
Here are the five most important goals he's scored for the United States:
5. BRAZIL 3, UNITED STATES 2, Confederations Cup final
Johannesburg, South Africa; June 28, 2009
The Yanks weren't supposed to be here, in their first FIFA final, not with Spain as a semifinal foe. But here they were, up against the giant that had tossed them aside, 3-0, during group play. Their semifinal triumph over the Spaniards (keep reading) provided a bit of belief, and Dempsey brought it to a swell by volleying along Jonathan Spector's cross, barely altering its path, to provide a 10th-minute lead. And when Donovan doubled the advantage before a half-hour had passed, the greatest victory in American soccer annals was, really and truly, within reach. Then the second half happened, and Brazil paraded another trophy.
4. UNITED STATES 3, GUATEMALA 1, World Cup qualifying
Kansas City, Kansas; Oct. 12, 2012
The closest the U.S. has come to missing a World Cup since Paul Caligiuri's “shot heard 'round the world” hit the net 27 years ago and counting was during the penultimate round of the 2014 eliminations.
The U.S. and Guatemala had each claimed 10 points heading into the group finale, with Jamaica set to reach 10 with the expected victory over Antigua and Barbuda. When Carlos Ruiz struck right at the start, the worst fears looked possible: Had Los Chapines held on for a 1-0 win, they would have joined Jamaica in the hex, ahead of the Yanks on goal difference. Thank goodness for Dempsey: He set up Carlos Bocanegra's equalizer in the 10th minute, then followed up with a tremendous effort to score the winner eight minutes later. For good measure, he tapped home what would have been a Michael Bradley goal for the third before the break.
3. UNITED STATES 2, PORTUGAL 2, 2014 World Cup
Manaus, Brazil; June 22, 2014
The opening-game victory over Ghana had altered the makeup of what was widely seen as 2014's most difficult group, and the Yanks were set to storm into the Round of 16 after just two outings when Deuce scored his second goal of the tournament to give the U.S. a 2-1 advantage with nine minutes and stoppage time to go.
He didn't have to do a whole lot to finish -- Graham Zusi's bullet ricocheted in off his chest -- and the Americans, who had rallied from an early deficit through Jermaine Jones, stood mere moments from victory when Silvestre Varela headed home Cristiano Ronaldo's cross four and a half minutes into stoppage time, the latest goal scored in regulation in World Cup history. The U.S. got through anyway, despite a loss to Germany in the final Group G clash.
2. UNITED STATES 2, GHANA 1, 2014 World Cup
Natal, Brazil; June 16, 2014
There was no way the U.S. was going to survive Brazil's Group of Death, right? That was the consensus, but Dempsey came up huge right away, scoring just 30 seconds into the opener, to start the Yanks toward a victory over the foe that had knocked them out of the previous two World Cups. It was a beauty of a goal, the way Deuce juked past John Boye and slotted to the far post. The Black Stars couldn't find an answer until Andre Ayew equalized in the 82nd minute, but John Brooks headed home Graham Zusi's corner kick four minutes later, and the U.S. was off and running.
1. UNITED STATES 2, SPAIN 0, Confederations Cup semifinals
Bloemfontein, South Africa; June 24, 2009
The U.S. had claimed some mighty victories over the years -- England in '50, Colombia in '94, Portugal in '02 -- but how sweet was this? European champion Spain was ranked No. 1 in the world, had won a record 15 successive games, had gone a record-tying 35 matches without defeat, and were headed toward a World Cup title the following year. And the Yanks, behind Dempsey, pulled off the upset of all upsets.
The U.S. had not impressed during the Confederations Cup and needed an unlikely set of result -- a 3-0 win over Egypt and a 3-0 Brazil victory over Italy -- just to get into the semifinals, where there was no hope. At least none until Jozy Altidore, just 19 years old at the time, finished from Dempsey's feed in the 27th minute. The U.S. held on gamely, but everybody everywhere knew it was just a matter of time before the Spaniards took charge. Dempsey took care of that in the 74th, finishing when Sergio Ramos failed to clear a deflected Donovan ball into the goalmouth.
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.