When looking for the star of a soccer team during a game or practice, look no further than the player wearing the No. 10 shirt.
The same can be said of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, which saw midfielder Clint Dempsey — the best player on the squad — wearing the No. 10 shirt.
The Americans’ usual No. 10, midfielder Landon Donovan, was absent from the U.S’s international friendly match against Italy on Wednesday due to illness, according to multiple reports.
Fortunately for the Yanks, Dempsey donned the No. 10 shirt, and he didn’t disappoint.
You wouldn’t expect Dempsey to disappoint, though — after all, he, and not Donovan, is clearly the go-to player for the U.S.
You don’t walk into the locker room of most national, professional or collegiate soccer teams and demand the No. 10 shirt. Rather, you’re given permission to borrow it, sometimes on a game-by-game basis. And unlike the NFL, the number can’t be from another player simply because they covet it enough. In soccer, you earn the No. 10 through hard work and artful, on-field play, as well as finishing on goal.
Famed No. 10′s throughout the history of soccer include Brazil’s Pele, Argentina’s Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi and France’s Zinedine Zidane.
Dempsey did the number justice on Wednesday when he hit the eventual game-winning goal against Italy in the 55th minute at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, Italy, to help lift the U.S. to its first-ever win against the Italians. The goal was the 25th Dempsey has scored for his country since debuting against Jamaica in November 2004.
In his own right, Donovan is deserving of wearing No. 10 for America, but he isn’t the best American on the field during national team games anymore — Dempsey has passed him.
Donovan plays the majority of his games with Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy, save for an occasional loan stint at English Premier League side Everton F.C. Donovan went on loan to the English club in January 2010 and went again at the start of this year. Both times, Donovan returned to America in time to begin the domestic season with the Galaxy.
On the other hand, Dempsey has graduated from MLS and is a fixture in England with fellow Premier League club Fulham F.C. Dempsey played in every minute of every Premier League game for Fulham in 2011. He is also tied for eighth-best in Premier League goal-scoring with 10 goals so far in 2011-12.
Earlier in the current season, Dempsey became the first American to score a hat trick in the Premier League when he dumped three goals to help sink Newcastle United on Jan. 21. Fulham won the match, 5-2.
During Fulham’s 2009-2010 campaign, Dempsey stood on the medal stand of a major European club competition when he helped guide his club to the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid on May 12, 2010.
Fulham lost the game to Atletico Madrid in extra time, 2-1, but that’s still more than Donovan has accomplished in Europe.
Donovan helped lead Everton to some impressive wins during his two loan stints, but never to a piece of silverware or a medal for the club.
Donovan is one of the great Americans to ever lace his boots up for the country — he’s scored big goals, won trophies and will always be remembered for the dramatic stoppage-time goal he scored against Algeria in the 2010 FIFA World Cup to help America win its group. In the process, Donovan has elevated the world’s awareness of American soccer and made the country relevant on international stages — this is his greatest contribution.
The game hasn’t necessarily passed Donovan by, but Dempsey has. You can expect Donovan to retain the No. 10 shirt for the U.S. Considering his accomplishments, he’s probably earned the right to wear it until he retires from international competition. With or without the No. 10 shirt, Dempsey is the man for America, and he showed the world why again on Wednesday.