Who's better: Donovan or Dempsey? 

January, 11, 2012

The friendlies this month against Venezuela in Phoenix (Jan. 21) and at Panama (Jan. 25) offer the first 2012 progress report of the Jurgen Klinsmann era.

But the most interesting match for national team fans this month is likely to be in England on Jan. 28, when Everton plays host to Fulham in an FA Cup fourth-round match, and Landon Donovan faces Clint Dempsey. It marks the first potential club matchup of the two U.S. stars since 2006, and the first knockout match between the two since the 2005 MLS Cup, when Donovan's L.A. Galaxy bested Dempsey's New England Revolution. Off the field, the Donovan-Dempsey contest provides a reason to ponder one of American soccer's best barstool debates: Who is the best U.S. field player of all time?

Three or four years ago, the question would have had you laughed out of the pub. Donovan was clearly recognized as the top Yank for his productivity and longevity. Now? The debate is gaining steam. The Galaxy star is coming off an injury-plagued, subpar year (by his standards) in international play but finished strong, winning yet another MLS title. Dempsey, meanwhile, surpassed Brian McBride this season to become the all-time leading American scorer in the Premier League, and just last week notched a hat trick to bring his goal total for Fulham to a monumental 50 in all competitions.

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.