Dallas Cup Alum Clint Dempsey Returns to MLS

American fans were excited to see Clint Dempsey, current captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team, return to Major League Soccer this month. On August 3, MLS acquired his rights from Tottenham Hotspur for a MLS-record $9 million dollars and assigned him to Seattle Sounders.  Clint made his first MLS appearance in over six years on August 10 against Toronto FC, when he came on for an injured Obafemi Martins in the 34th minute.

Clint Dempsey and the Dempsey family have deep history with the Dallas Cup. All three brothers participated in the tournament, while Clint’s mother volunteer as a nurse. The Dempsey story, as told by brother Ryan Dempsey, was recently featured in the 2013 Dr Pepper Dallas Cup. 

The Dempseys and Dallas Cup

by Ryan Dempsey

 

 

     Six months before the Dempsey family’s first Dallas Cup, we had never even heard of it. It was 1993. Clint was 9 years old and I was 14. My mom, Dad, Clint and I were driving to Dallas which was approximately 3 hours from our hometown of Nacogdoches. We were on our way to the final open tryout for the ’78 boys Texas Longhorn Soccer Club. Unfortunately, we were about to learn that those tryouts would be cancelled. Fortunately, however, we learned that Clint’s age group was still holding tryouts. My parent’s decision to take Clint to those tryouts is what ultimately opened the door to what would become a 9 year family affair with the greatest youth soccer tournament on Earth.

     During Clint’s first season, in the fall of 1993, we really learned about Dallas Cup. After all, it was the Texas Longhorns SC who founded the tournament in 1979 and had helped organize it ever since. Most of Clint’s team knew each other from playing indoor soccer together. We were new, from the country and completely oblivious. The other families from the team were very welcoming and went out of their way to make us feel at home. As we began to warm up to everyone, I recall one of the first conversations beginning with “are ya’ll as excited about your first Dallas Cup as we are?!” In our deepest east Texas accent we responded “Naw. What’s that?!”. Dallas Cup XV which was set to kick off in the Spring of 1994, only a few months prior to the first World Cup ever held in the United States. It was a very exciting time for soccer in America and a perfect time for our first Dallas Cup Experience. As the host club, the Texas Longhorn teams were allowed 1 team into their age-appropriate divisions. We were told that it was the biggest youth tournament on Earth. They started talking about these exciting teams we had never heard of like Tahuichi of Bolivia. We were immediately captivated and, now, very excited. Luckily, I was able to tryout and make the ’78 Longhorn team who would also be participating. Being from a small town in East Texas, we rarely had the opportunity to play against players from the city, let alone other states. When we heard that the tournament would include some of the world’s best teams from other countries, we were blown away. The excitement grew even bigger once we learned that Dallas based teams would be housing players from one of these other countries. Even though our family wasn’t based in Dallas, we had to spend much of our time with these same Dallas based families so it was a unique experience for us. Clint’s team hosted Estrellas Infintiles from Guatemala City. My team was hosting Argentinos Juniors from Buenos Aires, which we knew as being Diego Maradona’s youth team and first professional team. As huge fans of Latin American soccer and obviously Diego Maradona, we couldn’t wait to meet these players and learn about them and their countries. At the opening ceremonies we were in awe of how many people from different cultures were present. We were literally star struck by players whose warm-ups bore the official logos of clubs like River Plate and Real Madrid.

     My first Dallas Cup game happened to be my first ever game with my new club. That game was against Essex Schools of England, the same club that David Beckham participated with a few years prior. We lost 2-0 in a game that proved to be my first real tutorial on speed of play. Other than my new coach, Dick Hall, it was the first time I’d ever heard a British accent. I remember a player and I engaging in some trash talk just to have a laugh at each other’s accents. They were as amused by mine as I was theirs. As amazing as it was to play in Dallas Cup XV, our favorite memories are of us watching the U-19 Super Group Games with our guest players from Argentinos Juniors and Estrellas Infintiles at Lake Highlands High School Stadium. We all dressed in our team warm ups. The Argentineans thought it was strange that we sat during a soccer game so every now and then they jumped and sang. When they were steeling the spotlight with their singing, we turned our focus to the game. I didn’t realize that I was watching players who would go on to have very successful professional careers. To us, they might as well have already been pros because that’s how much Clint and I idolized their play. As stunning as the play was of the teams in the Super Group, Real Madrid was in a class of its own. The speed, skill and attacking verve with which they played was absolutely jaw dropping. To see how easily they rolled to their 7-0 Championship win over FC Kaiserslautern in the Final is, to this day, the most impressively dominant performance I have ever witnessed in person. With the end of that game came the end of our first Dallas Cup and we returned our hometown with souvenirs, stories and an eager anticipation of the next Dallas Cup, which would prove to be the most special of all.

     In the Spring of 1995, Dallas Cup XVI was the first Dallas Cup following a very successfully hosted World Cup and there was a new appreciation for the game in America. It was almost exactly one year to the day before the first Major League Soccer game. My Mom volunteered to be part of the medical staff for the first time, and my dad a field marshal. It was the tournament in which I would meet my good friends and former UNAM Pumas Paul Martinez, Nacho Flores, Jaime Lozano and Jose “El Toro” Bonilla, who were all hospitable enough to house me in Mexico City during two of next three following summers. This was also the tournament where we had the privilege of watching players like Edmilson, and Fabio Aurelio. What made this tournament so special to our family was that it was, perhaps, the single most memorable week of our late sister, Jennifer Spring Dempsey’s, life. She, and my other sister and brother were not able to attend the previous year. Jennifer wasn’t a soccer player. Her sport was Tennis, but Dallas Cup brought out the biggest smiles that I recall ever seeing on her face. Jennifer was a typical 15 year old girl in the mid 90’s. She couldn’t wait to get her driver’s license. She didn’t love homework but she always got it done and made good grades. She dotted every “i”’ with a heart in the letters she wrote to her friends. She was a beautiful blue eyed blond with tan skin but, she was insecure about acne and having braces. She liked boys and deep down she was a flirt but was usually too shy to express it because boys rarely flirted with her. What was unusual about Jennifer, however, was her absolute indiscriminate love for every human being she ever met. She never cared about social class, nationality, religion, age, gender, or even what language someone spoke. She didn’t understand why people didn’t always get along. This is why Dallas Cup was like a heaven on Earth for her. Being from a small town in East Texas, we weren’t used to seeing such a diverse collection of people in one place. Seeing so many people from different cultures actually hanging out and getting along was even more unusual than that. To Jennifer, Dallas Cup was the only week of the year that the world was how it should be. Everywhere you turned you’d see someone laughing as they tried to gesture what they were saying to someone who didn’t understand their language. You would see young people trading things, practicing another language, juggling a ball or sending a friend to tell a girl she was pretty. There was this overwhelming feeling of acceptance and family. It felt as if you could walk up to any stranger and be greeted with a warm and sincere introduction. Jennifer and my youngest sister, Crystal, were inseparable and almost uncontainable as they were constantly moving about and socializing at the Harvey Hotel Lobby and the Super Group games. It seemed like the only times you’d ever see them standing still was when they were posing for one of their many pictures with various teams or players. It flattered her how amazed they were by her unusual combination of blond hair, blue eyes and tan skin. It was a feeling she didn’t experience back home. It was these images that she made into a collage and put on her wall to remind her of the joy she had experienced that week. To stay in touch, she and some of the friends she made that year would write each other from time to time reminiscing and looking forward to the next Dallas Cup.

     Sadly, Jennifer wouldn’t make it to the next Dallas Cup. In November of that year she suffered a brain aneurysm and passed away. Though it was very hard to lose such an amazing person, it is comforting to know how much joy from Dallas Cup she carried with her to her final moments. We like to remember her as that happy fun loving 15 year old girl that she was at Dallas Cup XVI. That’s why we still keep those pictures of her at that Dallas Cup on our walls. As a family, we know she was with Clint when he scored his goals in the past two World Cups. I know that she probably catches a few Dallas Cup games each year as well.

     Jennifer wasn’t the only one near to our hearts who took fond memories of the Dallas Cup to their early resting place. Victor Rivera was a close friend who Clint recruited from Nacogdoches onto his U-19 Dallas Texans squad who participated in Dallas Cup XXII in 2001. Victor was a very talented player. As a Mexican American, he was so excited to play against Atlas FC of Guadalajara. He and Clint both scored in a 3-2 loss, and I was there to see him celebrate what was one of the highlights of his life. He passed away in 2005. In 2010 Clint honored him after scoring his goal vs England by holding up the numbers 1 and 3 which was Victor’s Jersey number with the Nacogdoches High School Soccer Team. 

     At least one member of our family participated in every Dallas Cup from 1994 until 2003. That final year, our youngest brother Lance became the only one of us to play in a championship game, a 1-0 loss in the U-19 Boys Final. Looking back, it’s clear that Dallas Cup isn’t limited to just one week per year nor is it limited to your playing years. Many collegiate and professional playing careers begin at Dallas Cup. I owe my experiences training in Mexico with UNAM Pumas and Cruz Azul to Dallas Cup. I owe many of the friends and memories that I still have today to Dallas Cup. If your experience is anything like ours, you’ll be eager to hear someone respond “Naw. What’s That?!”, when you ask them if they know about Dallas Cup. On Behalf of the entire Dempsey Family, we wish you a Dallas Cup you’ll remember forever.

 

Testimonies:

“Dallas Cup served as a reminder that soccer is still the most beloved and welcoming sport on Earth. As far removed as my home was from where the World’s best footballers were being produced, I knew that each year I had the opportunity to share the field with those players and show what I could do. It gave me an annual goal. It fueled my training and my ability to dream big”
- Clint Dempsey


“We loved being at the fields where you could turn your turn your head to the right or left only a few degrees and enjoy 4 or 5 games at once. It was like a beautiful game buffet”
- Aubrey and Debbie Dempsey


“Dallas Cup was almost like going on vacation to every country on Earth at the same time. Me and Jennifer just loved to watch the games and take pictures with all the players”
- Crystal Dempsey
 

“Playing in the U-19 boys final was my favorite memory. Although we got 2nd place, it gave me chills to hear the crowd cheer after they called my name to receive my runners up medal. I’ll never forget it”

- Lance Dempsey