SEATTLE — All Clint Dempsey ever wanted to do was score goals and go fishing.
He’ll have plenty of time to do the latter after deciding his goal-scoring days are over.
In true Dempsey fashion, he’s stepping away from soccer on his own terms, with minimal fanfare on his own part but amid a swell of appreciation for what he’s meant to the American game.
"It’s a little bit of a sad day because we won’t get to see him play, but at the same time you can also use this day as a celebration for some of the great things he has accomplished in his career," Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Dempsey announced Wednesday that he’s retiring at age 35 after 15 years of playing professionally. He was mostly a sub with the Sounders this summer, and that, combined with age and injury, prompted him to decide now was the time to walk away even with two months left in the MLS regular season.
He didn’t show at his own farewell, only issuing a statement through the team, also in true Dempsey fashion. Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer said there had been talks over the past few weeks about Dempsey’s future and the decision was finalized in the past couple of days.
"After a lot of thought, my family and I have decided that this is the right time for me to step away from the game," Dempsey said. "I’d like to thank all of the teammates, coaches and support staff that I’ve worked with throughout my career. It has always been my dream to make it as a pro. I’m grateful to have been on this ride. I would like to thank all of the fans who have supported me throughout my career with the New England Revolution, Fulham, Tottenham, Seattle Sounders and the U.S. men’s national team.
"Y’all have always made me feel at home, and it is something that I will always remember."
Dempsey is tied with Landon Donovan as the greatest U.S. goal scorer, with 57 international goals in 141 appearances, and both their names come up in the discussion about the best U.S. players of all-time. He captained the U.S. in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when the Americans reached the knockout stage before losing to Belgium in the round of 16. He’s the only American to score in three different World Cups.
But aside from his international success with the U.S., his most important contribution was helping to dispel a stereotype about American players in the Premier League. Dempsey moved from the New England Revolution to Fulham in 2007 and showed Americans weren’t just "try-hard" players; they also have skill.
He became the first American to score a hat trick in the Premier League. He played in a Europa League final, and his chipped goal against Juventus while playing for Fulham is regarded as arguably the best of his career.
"Clint changed those perspectives that it’s not just a hard-working guy that is going to go grind for it, that he actually could do something special with skill," former U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. "Some of the goals that Clint scored for Fulham were truly world class."
Dempsey’s Premier League career ended with Tottenham and he returned to MLS in 2013 with the Sounders. It was a major moment for MLS — an American player who had success in England making the decision to return to the league with good years still remaining in his career.
Dempsey scored 57 goals in all competitions in his Seattle career. He helped lead the Sounders to a U.S. Open Cup title, a Supporters’ Shield and an appearance in a second straight MLS Cup final a season ago.
He missed the second half of the 2016 season with a heart condition that put his career in jeopardy and kept him out of Seattle’s championship run. He returned the next season after being cleared by doctors and was the MLS Comeback Player of the Year when he again became the leading scorer for the Sounders and reclaimed a place on the U.S. national team.
The Americans fell short in World Cup qualifying, ending Dempsey’s bid to play in a fourth World Cup.
His retirement comes when Seattle is surging. The Sounders are unbeaten in their past 10 games and have matched a league record with seven straight victories. But Dempsey’s role was diminishing. He had just one goal in 14 games this season and had been slowed by a lower back injury.
Dempsey’s final game was last Saturday, when he played 11 minutes as a sub against San Jose.
"Clint Dempsey has been one of the most impactful players in the history of the sport in our country. From his early success with the New England Revolution to his achievements both as a top player in the English Premier League and for the U.S. men’s national team, Clint showed us that there are no limits for an American player," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "His decision to sign with the Sounders in 2013 in the prime of his career sent a message to the global soccer community that MLS was a league on the rise."