Blue-collar Dempsey works way into record books

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports
Blue-collar Dempsey works way into record books
Clint Dempsey celebrates after his record-setting goal which also sent Fulham past Liverpool

Clint Dempsey has more money than he knows what to do with, a wife who has modeled swimwear and now a place in the record books.

Dempsey's game-winning goal Monday not only sent Fulham past Liverpool, but also represented a milestone for the midfielder. The goal was Dempsey's 37th in the English Premier League, which put him ahead of Brian McBride as the highest-scoring American of all-time in the toughest division on the planet. In soccer terms, he may be his nation's greatest export ever.

Despite the mark, he still plays the game with an urgency that suggests the dream life, and the dream job, may be snatched away from him at any instant. The 85th-minute goal at Craven Cottage was a relatively simple effort from close range but it capped yet another strong performance, one that also featured an angry exchange with Liverpool's Craig Bellamy, one of the EPL's fiercest characters.

Dempsey has come a long way from Nacogdoches, Texas, where he learned the game on dusty scraps of land. His long and tough road to soccer's pinnacle began with his parents driving countless miles and sacrificing their own comforts to give opportunities to all of their athletically-talented children. Tragically, Dempsey's sister, Jennifer, a promising teenage tennis player who dreamed of a career on the WTA Tour, died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 16.

The English press and public constantly lament the arrogance and bratty behavior of EPL players, few of whom seem to appreciate the privilege of their position and its accompanying rewards. That's not the case with Dempsey.

"I don't know what it is, but there is always a little thing in the back of your head that maybe someday someone will take it all away," Dempsey told Yahoo! Sports in a recent interview. "When I was much younger, it was just about playing the game. I knew I loved it, but it didn't go much deeper than that.

"Then, when there was the possibility that I could have a career in soccer, I realized here was this chance that if I worked hard then maybe I could make a living doing what I love more than anything instead of working a regular job like so many people have to.

"I get what that means. I know how hard people work when they get up every morning and provide for a wife and kids and have worries and responsibilities. They don't have the option to do what they love, because they have to put food on the table. That could have been me so I always appreciate what I have had the chance to do."

Although Dempsey was always blessed with talent, he was not always earmarked as a future star. He played his college soccer at Furman before going into Major League Soccer, winning Rookie of the Year honors with the New England Revolution in 2004.

[ Related: Dempsey's late goal snaps three-game winless streak ]

Fulham took a chance on him in 2007, and within a few weeks, he scored a critical goal (also against Liverpool) that kept the club in the EPL where they have stayed ever since. Dempsey has stuck around too, despite rumors linking him with a move to bigger clubs such as Liverpool, Arsenal and AC Milan.

Liverpool must rue not snapping him up now. Kenny Dalglish's side is hoping to reclaim a place in the Champions League by finishing in the top four of the EPL this season and this defeat was a sizeable blow.

It was an equally vital result for Fulham as it came after a series of struggles at home, where it had managed only six points in six previous games and created worries about being drawn into a relegation fight.

While Dempsey doesn't care much for personal records, his achievement in surpassing McBride, the American stalwart who spent most of his career in England, should not be downplayed. After Dempsey (37) and McBride (36), the next highest-scoring American in the EPL is Roy Wegerle, who scored 13 times in the 1990s.

Don't expect any complacency from Dempsey, though.

"I have the same kind of mentality now as I ever did," he said. "That same idea of working hard and deserving what you get. Earn your paycheck every day. Don't feel entitled. Don't think you have made it.

"Of course, over time you feel more settled and satisfied but you have to approach every game with the same hunger if you can. It can be hard over a long season but I know that if I take the right approach then I give myself the best chance of performing to my maximum."

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