This is a player, after all, who has had to fight for everything. As a kid he endured three-hour car rides from his home in Nacogdoches, Texas to Dallas just to get to practice. He later fought to establish himself in college and in MLS. Once he made it to the bright lights of the Premier League, he battled with a string of skeptical managers whose first act was to drop him from the lineup, only to reinstate him once they realized that, yes, he did have ability.
To this day, Dempsey, 34, is a fighter still, though normally after games he shows little emotion, no matter the result. Yet when he bagged a hat trick in the United States national team's 6-0 victory over Honduras last month, a bit of appreciation, however faint, seeped out of him.
"You're just grateful for every day, grateful for every game you get to play in 'cause you never know when it's going to be taken from you," he said that night.
Dempsey's gratitude is understandable. For the better part of six months, the Seattle Sounders FC forward was forced to confront the possibility that his livelihood would indeed be taken away from him. Symptoms from an irregular heartbeat saw Seattle shut him down for the last four months of the 2016 season. In a cruel twist, Dempsey was forced to watch the Sounders' epic march to their first MLS Cup title from a tantalizingly close distance. The day before the MLS Cup final against Toronto FC, while his teammates practiced, Dempsey could be seen training on his own. He was on the inside, yet also apart.