Did you know that the U.S. men’s national team currently has co-leading goal scorers? You probably did, but either forgot or didn’t care because it – like everything else – is dwarfed by the monumental failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are tied with 57 goals apiece and it appears they may stay deadlocked for a very long time.
Donovan, 36, is still playing professionally and most recently completed a brief tenure with Liga MX club León. He hasn’t appeared with the national team since 2014, and, barring a shock call-up or a bizarro over-30 camp, he won’t be adding to his goal tally.
Dempsey currently plies his trade with the Seattle Sounders in MLS. In all likelihood, he would have received several opportunities to score one more goal in the lead up to and at the World Cup. Although the 35-year old has yet to officially retire from the national team, it’s unlikely he’ll force the issue of inclusion.
Will he receive another opportunity to take over sole ownership of the record and, more importantly, does he care?
“We’ll see what happens. I mean, in terms of what I’ve been able to accomplish with the national team, I’m at peace with it,” Dempsey said in November of last year. “It’s not really about me. It’s about a group of guys that want to be moving forward. If there’s an opportunity that comes where you get to play a role and try to help and I’m feeling good and I’m playing well, then yeah you’ll never say no. But you know, if the call never comes, I’m still happy, still at peace and focused on being here and trying to make the most of the time I have left.”
That doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who is chomping at the bit to set any personal records. There’s always the possibility of a final friendly where Dempsey’s teammates desperately attempt to set him up, but, again, that doesn’t seem to be his style. To quote a recent article by The Ringer, the reported swirling maelstrom of drama of the Jürgen Klinsmann era and unsatisfying Bruce Arena coda wasn’t interesting, he “just wants to score [goals] and go fishing.” It’s difficult to imagine an American who cares less about personal records than Dempsey.
The national team program has already moved onto 2022. Recent friendlies have featured a glut of young, mostly unproven players who have displayed the expected fearlessness and inconsistency.
Like your annoying uncle interjects at Thanksgiving, “Ties are un-American.” They’re frustrating because they provide neither a sense of closure nor definitive data for the inevitable comparative discussion that makes sports worth consuming.
There are a few other countries featuring co-leading goal scorers: Denmark (Poul Neilsen and Jon Dahl Tomasson with 52), Bulgaria (Dimitar Berbatov and Hristo Bonev with 48), Romania (Gheorge Hagi and Adrian Mutu with 35), and Scotland (Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law with 30). It’s not a unique situation, and it provides balance to the narratives surrounding the two American players most routinely cited as the historical best.
Donovan went to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, broke through with the national team at a young age, and was easily the most recognizable name for casual viewers. He frustrated fans, coaches, and media with his unwillingness to sacrifice his personal happiness in order to play at the highest level, but will always be one of the first names associated with American soccer.
Dempsey took a slightly more circuitous route to the national team, but, upon arrival, displayed a contagious level of braggadocious swagger that could benefit every player. Goals, physical play, and a rap video followed. As Arena once memorably remarked in his trademark style, “He tries sh**.” Dempsey pushed himself to the top of the English Premier League and at times served as an antithesis to everything some disliked about Donovan.
Hot and cold. Heads and tails. Hot dogs and hamburgers. Donovan and Dempsey. Most have a preference for one or the other, so it makes sense that they’ll share the record, at least for the time being.
Eventually another player will supplant them. Scoring 57 goals requires a long and consistent tenure, but it’s hardly one of the 12 Labours of Heracles. Currently, there are already two likely challengers.
Jozy Altidore has 41 goals, but, at 28-years old, his window is closing and he likely has one remaining World Cup cycle to score 18 more. With US Soccer focused on integrating new talent, he’s missing out on crucial matches to add to his tally.
Christian Pulisic already has nine goals at the age of 19. If he continues his ascension, or even remains at the same talent level and avoids debilitating injury, then he should easily take over the record before 30. With seven assists, he’ll also likely challenge Donovan’s record of 58.
For now, the top of the goal scoring table is shared by Donovan and Dempsey, an interesting, meaningless factoid that means nothing. Maybe it will be a clue on Jeopardy! or something.