The Dempseys are one of many sets of soccer-playing brothers similar in genetics and circumstance, separate in trajectories. Wayne Rooney, Kaka, Wesley Sneijder, Ryan Giggs, John Terry, Samuel Eto’o—they all have brothers playing soccer for a living, on lesser teams in lower divisions. Many more have brothers like Ryan: guys who loved the game fiercely, who brought their brother to the game, but ultimately failed to make it themselves.
While Ryan had the opportunity to train with both Pumas and Cruz Azul, top division professional teams in Mexico, he followed the American frame of mind—use your athletic ability to land yourself a scholarship—and returned home to play in college, even though in Mexico they told him he was crazy to leave.
More than 15 years later, this is a decision he regrets: “Looking back I probably should have stayed, to live my dream. Whatever happens after that, that’s what happens. If I had to struggle to pay for college, fine, I would have had to struggle. You got to struggle with what you’ve got to struggle with. At least I would’ve had a shot at my dreams—to play professional soccer.”
When he graduated, whatever opportunities he’d once had in soccer were gone. Like most players, he had to find something else to do with his life. Which isn’t all that easy to do when you’ve grown up playing, watching, and hoping about one thing. “It wasn’t that I didn’t have a backup plan,” Ryan says. “I didn’t have a backup passion.”
Nowadays Ryan works a 50-hour-a-week job—“It’s pretty much the most boring thing in the world to talk about.” But he’s quit trying to replace his passion. A job is just a job, while futbol is who he is, even if he never made it as far as he wanted. When the workday is up, he does what he’s been doing his whole life: He heads to the field. He is one more middle-aged guy playing for nothing on dirt, still the blanco surrounded by guys from Honduras, Mexico, and Panama.
Of course, he’s not only “just another middle-aged guy”—he is also Clint Dempsey’s brother. “It’s so exciting to be this close to one of the most successful players of our generation,” he says.
“Watching Clint, there’s no envy at all. When he’s doing it, it’s like I get to be out there too. He’s out there, playing the style we played as kids.”
Ryan recognizes that all over the world there are guys like him who got close, guys who trained with the pros, guys who were on the brink. And he knows that it’s guys like him who Clint is playing for. As Clint told ESPN, “Every time I go out on that pitch, I do it for [my family], but also for the people who never made it.”
Incredibly, three sets of brothers are playing in the World Cup.
You’ve got the Boateng brothers, who in 2010 became the first two brothers to play against each other in a World Cup. This past Saturday, they faced off for the second time, Kevin-Prince Boateng representing Ghana, Jerome Boateng suiting up for Germany. (Come World Cup time, they halted their usual routine of daily texts; Prince told The Daily Mail, “It’s every man for himself.”)