EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — On the day the U.S. meets the Czech Republic in a pre-World Cup friendly (ESPN, Galavisión, 8 p.m. ET), U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey has something he wants to get off his chest. Dempsey isn’t happy with the way ESPN commentator John Harkes has criticized him on TV, in particular during last year’s Confederations Cup.
“He criticized me in [Confederations Cup] for looking tired and said I should be benched, but I was top three in distance covered in the whole tournament,” Dempsey told me. “It’s funny that he criticized me so much and yet I feel like I’ve done more in my international career than he has. Just compare our national-team stats. I’ve also scored in a World Cup, scored three goals in Confederations Cup, and got the Bronze Ball for third-best player in the whole tournament. Look at what he’s done. I’m 27 and still have a lot of games left in me and he’s finished.”
On Tuesday afternoon I reached Harkes, who will be handling ESPN’s color commentary for the game tonight. “Clint Dempsey is a great player, highly skilled and very entertaining,” Harkes told me. “My job is to commentate on the games. It’s never personal. As a former player you realize it’s part and parcel of the profession. I wish Clint and the whole U.S. team the best of success, especially in the World Cup.”
Some might argue that Harkes’s own career is irrelevant when it comes to whether it gives him the right to be a critic. For what it’s worth, though, here are the stats comparing Dempsey and Harkes:
U.S. career: 60 caps, 17 goals, 7 assists
About to be 2 World Cups: 3 games, 1 goal, 0-2-1 record
1 Honda Player of Year award (1 3rd place)
Bronze ball, 2009 Confederations Cup.
2 Gold Cup titles
League career in England: 110 games, 21 goals.
Runner-up in 2010 Europa League.
U.S. career: 90 caps, 6 goals, 11 assists
2 World Cups: 6 games, 0 goals, 1-1-4 record
0 Honda Player of Year awards (1 runner-up)
Co-MVP 1995 Copa América (updated)
0 Gold Cup titles
League career in England: 164 games, 12 goals.
Won 1991 League Cup with Sheffield Wednesday. Also runner-up in one FA Cup, one League Cup.
For Dempsey’s part, he also thinks he got a raw deal in the voting for last year’s Honda Player of the Year award. Dempsey wasn’t among the three finalists for the award (winner Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore). “In the year that a player got the Bronze Ball in a major tournament, I’m not even in the top three?” said Dempsey, who has sometimes felt like an outsider in the U.S. system because he didn’t play on its elite teams as a youth player.
Do you think Dempsey has a point? Do you agree with Harkes? And do you think Dempsey plays better when he has a chip on his shoulder? Post your comments below…