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Donovan, Dempsey: Deadlocked at 57 Forever?

January 16th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Football, Landon Donovan, Russia 2018, soccer

When Landon Donovan first retired, in December of 2014, his U.S. National Soccer Team record for international goals seemed unassailable, at least in the short-to-mid term. And I wrote that.

His closest pursuer was Clint Dempsey, and the Texan was on 38 goals, 19 behind Donovan’s total.

Then, Dempsey went on a scoring spree, banging home 10 goals in 2015 to get himself back into the record conversation, adding four in 2016 and five more last year, including three against Honduras in a 6-0 World Cup qualifier.

Dempsey caught Donovan at 57 with a goal against Costa Rica in a Gold Cup match on July 22, and that may have been the night that Donovan, working as a broadcaster, said on the air that Dempsey could “stop now” so they could “share” the record. He was joking. A little.

Dempsey seemed highly likely to pass Donovan, with 2017 only halfway gone, but he failed to score in five appearances, during which he played 214 minutes, including the final 45 of the crushing defeat at Trinidad & Tobago that sent the Americans out of the World Cup.

And now?

The two of them may have to share, after all.

The failure of the U.S. to qualify for the Russia 2018 World Cup quite possibly ended Dempsey’s national-team career.

The federation has shifted into “thinking of the future” mode, as can be seen by the list of guys called into the January national-team camp. Young guys are in. The veterans are yesterday’s news.

Which would not be the case if the Yanks were going to Russia.

Dempsey, who turns 35 in March, could have expected to be called in for four or five or six friendlies, ahead of Russia, and gotten three or more matches in the World Cup, too, and all he would need is one ball in the net to leave Donovan in the rear-view mirror.

Instead … it is hard to imagine why the national team would call him in again, when it now is focusing on 2022 — when Dempsey would be 39.

Also, the U.S. has no major competitions this year; at the moment, the only match on the calendar is a friendly with Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 28.

Dempsey is only one year younger than is Donovan, which many people do not recognize, probably because Donovan began his U.S. career in 1999, at 17, and was already seen as a superstar before Dempsey got his first international in 2005, at 22.

What would have to happen for the 57 & 57 tie to be broken?

Dempsey would have to have a huge year with the Seattle Sounders, his Major League Soccer club, to the point that the federation felt like his presence at a friendly this year would goose ticket sales. Or heat up the conversation about him passing Donovan.

A problem with that is that Dempsey, no matter how good he is in the coming season, is unlikely to get a call-up. Again, because he is unlikely to be around for the 2022 World Cup, but also because bringing him in for a game might seem provocative to Landon Donovan’s fans — which probably exceed Dempsey’s in number.

One unexpected aspect to this is the return, again, of Donovan, out of retirement to join Club Leon of Liga MX, Mexico’s top flight.

He turns 36 in March, and has spent only a couple of months with a club since the end of 2014. Not much is expected from him.

But if he were to find some final scoring surge … would the federation call him into the national side? Would it call him in at the same time it called in Dempsey, if he were playing well?

Again, probably not. Donovan has been away from the national team since early 2014 and, like Dempsey, the chances of him playing at the 2022 World Cup (or even the 2019 Gold Cup) seem remote.

End of the day … I am chastened by how my earlier prediction — that Donovan was out of reach by Dempsey — fell to pieces. But the most likely outcome to this “greatest U.S. scorer” competition would seem to be the two of them sitting on 57.

Each would have seen his international career ended suddenly and unexpectedly — Donovan by a vindictive Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Dempsey by the U.S. failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Maybe that would be better: Two guys get to say no one scored more goals than he did. American soccer fans could discuss this forever — or until Christian Pulisic of some other kid not yet known to us, gets up to 50 with some fuel still in the tank.



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