With some players, counting down their most memorable individual moments is a disservice to their overall bodies of work. Soccer is a game of subtleties, and to pick out only the highlights can feel like an oversimplification -- consider guys like Xavi and Andrea Pirlo, for whom the appeal was their ability to control entire matches as if holding an invisible string.
With Clint Dempsey, it feels more apt. For Dempsey, who retired on Wednesday and finishes his career tied for the all-time goal-scoring records both with the United States men's national team and the Seattle Sounders, the highlight reel was the whole point. Dempsey was a player of flashpoints, of flicks and chips, of, in the words of former U.S. coach Bruce Arena that will be carved on his career tombstone, "trying s---."
Below are five of Dempsey's most memorable moments.
5. Dancing on the world stage
One of the few bright spots of the United States' dreadful 2006 World Cup showing was the emergence of Dempsey as a top-level talent. The first of his four career World Cup goals is probably more memorable for his sweet-footed samba celebration afterward, but the goal itself was pretty nice, too, a first-time strike of a pinpoint assist from fellow U.S. lifer DaMarcus Beasley.
4. Clinching the Open Cup
For all of Dempsey's individual successes and widespread acclaim, he didn't actually get to lift a whole lot of tangible hardware. Dempsey won three Gold Cups with the national team but was otherwise a serial runner-up -- twice losing at the MLS Cup with the Revs and once with the Sounders, coming in second at the 2009 Confederations Cup and in the 2010 Europa League.
So it meant more to him than it might have for most to score the winning goal of the 2014 U.S. Open Cup, combining with longtime strike partner Obafemi Martins in the 101st minute of a tied game. The Dempsey-Martins combo still stands up as one of the most feared in MLS history, and it powered Seattle to an Open Cup/Supporters' Shield double in the most successful single season of Dempsey's career.
3. Slaying mighty Spain
In a result that grows only more mind-boggling with each passing year, the U.S. snapped No. 1 and eventual world champion Spain's 35-match unbeaten streak in the semifinals of that aforementioned 2009 Confederations Cup. Dempsey netted the goal that clinched the upset, swiping the ball off the feet of Sergio Ramos (heard of him?) before finishing from close range.
2. Nearly topping Portugal with his torso
On top of his taste for runner-up finishes, Dempsey also had what had to have been a maddening tendency for almost-but-not-quite heroism. Landon Donovan's last-second winner against Algeria in 2010 will live long in the memory -- but already, few recall that it was Dempsey's initial run and shot that set Donovan up for the tap-in and for his moment of glory. So it was in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, when Dempsey's late, improvisational finish looked set to knock off Portugal ... until a long-range cross from Cristiano Ronaldo led to a 95th-minute equalizer.
1. That chip against Juventus
Could it be anything else? No goal better encapsulates Dempsey's entire persona -- the swagger, the audaciousness, the trying "s---" -- better than the outrageous chip he scored for Fulham against Italian juggernaut Juventus in the 2010 Europa League quarterfinals. I've watched this clip dozens of times over the years and I'm still amazed by the invention and the execution.
Dempsey was one of a kind. It'll be a long while before American soccer fans are blessed with another star with his unique skill set.