“I can remember, really clearly, arriving at the hospital and a little doubt forming in the back of mind: ‘What if this is it? What if my sister dies today?’”

“His voice is steady but this is the one moment he pauses,” writes Taylor. “‘You get there,’ recalls Dempsey, ‘and everyone is crying. They tell you and your heart falls from your chest. You hit the ground and you cry for hours. You cry until your head aches.’”

“I can talk about it now as I feel she is in a better place,” he says softly. “But it’s something you can never get over.”

“It’s weird because I remember something she told me. We would talk about death and she said, ‘If I ever pass away, do you want me to come back and let you know I’m OK?’

“I said: ‘No, that would scare me too bad!’

“We talked about it some more and she said, ‘Well, if I ever die I will help you get the ball in the net.’

“And that’s why I look up to the sky now when I score — to remember her.”

As a 12-year-old, he made that promise to her in a hand-written letter

he placed in a vase at Jennifer’s grave.

An autographed photo of Dempsey gazing heavenward

Today, he is a member of the U.S. National Soccer Team – yes, the squad that represents America in the Olympics. England still has trouble forgiving him for scoring against them in the 2010 World Cup. In America’s Major League Soccer, he made quite an impact with that hunger to score that he’s never lost – and his wild enthusiasm. After one famous goal, he jumped into the stands to plant a kiss on his mother’s cheek.

“After everything we had been through together,” he says with a smile, “we shared that moment.”

After all, she did her best to make every game possible when he played on a full scholarship at Furman University. However, finances made it tough. In college, two of his teammates, Greg Griffin and Chefik Simo, asked him one day if he wanted to go with them to a concert.

“They were friends of mine and I wanted to go but I was like, ‘I haven’t even got 10 bucks to spend.’ And being broke saved my life. They got in a car crash, they flipped over and an 18-wheeler hit them. Greg died. Chefik was injured so bad he couldn’t play again.”

Dempsey broke records at Furman, then went on to play three seasons with MLS’s New England Revolution, where he bagged 25 goals, a

Rookie of the Year trophy and two MLS “Best XI” selections – in which the league honors the best 11 players of the year.

Finances eased when he signed with British powerhouse Fulham for $4 million, an MLS record. He scored his first goal for Fulham against arch-rival Liverpool, a last-second 1-0 winner that kept the game from going into overtime – sending fans into joyous pandemonium. Now he has led Fulham in scoring three different seasons. His 33 English Premier League goals are the most for any Fulham player ever – not to mention a Yank playing British soccer.

Dempsey after his historic U.S. goal tying England in the World Cup

He’s been the team’s Player of the Year and is tied for the longest-tenured player on the team with the legendary Simon Davies.

“Dempsey,” writes ESPN soccer writer’s Leander Schaerlaeckens, “has developed into a highly physical, fearless and inexhaustible forward.”

In a recent U.S. game against Spain, notes Schaerlaeckens, “Dempsey was the only American capable of injecting some danger into the U.S. attack. Since he made the team in 2004, has made 72 appearances and scored 20 times. And, not coincidentally, the moments the U.S.

distinguishes itself coincide with Dempsey’s best games.

Airborne, Dempsey scores against Spain

“He was the one, for example, who threw his body headlong into a challenge with Algeria’s goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup, allowing the ball to skip loose for Landon Donovan to sweep it into the net.

Only two Americans have ever scored in two different World Cups. One of them is Dempsey.

“You know what you’re going to get from him,” says U.S. national team captain Carlos Bocanegra. “He’s somebody who you want on your team every time because he gives everything.”

The humble, devout Catholic with “Psalm 23” tattooed on his arm is a sensation in the English Premier League, which doesn’t have a history of letting just any Yank show up and show them how the game is played.

But they love his trademark gift for “finishing,” then glancing at the sky, sometimes pointing heavenward …

As he remembers that pledge made as a 12-year-old to his big sister …

Who promised to be waiting in the net.