Many stand to benefit if Fulham can survive


Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The United States and Great Britain have rarely seen eye-to-eye when it comes to athletic competition.

While Americans prefer sports like football, baseball and basketball, the country across the pond fancies soccer, cricket and rugby.

The two have crossed paths on the international level before - most notably the 1950 World Cup when the United States stunned England 1-0 in the group stage - but the opportunity for one country to make an impact on the other's home soil in domestic play has been rare.

The United States has produced a number of world-class goalkeepers over the last 10 years, with netminders like Brad Friedel, Tim Howard and Kasey Keller finding their way onto Premiership rosters. Reading's Marcus Hahnemann is another American keeper who is playing in England's top flight, giving the Stars and Stripes four starting goalies in one of the top leagues in the world.

While the American keepers have made a minimal impact on the Premiership, Fulham has headed into uncharted waters this year with not only an American keeper in Keller on its roster, but four other U.S. players who will play a major role in the club's success the rest of the season.

Brian McBride is one of five Americans on the Fulham roster.
Imagine the Miami Dolphins signing four blokes from London to play in their secondary - that is the situation with Fulham.

In addition to Keller, the London-based club also boasts defender Carlos Bocanegra and strikers Eddie Johnson, Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey.

All five players saw time in the club's big 1-0 win over Everton on Sunday, with McBride netting the lone goal of the match in the second half.

The USA and Great Britain, once allies in battling Nazi Germany during World War II, have joined forces at Fulham to attempt the prevention of another terrible evil - relegation.

The dreaded R-word can cost clubs upwards of $35 million in lost revenues, while also forcing teams to sell off some of their higher-priced players.

It is the absolute worst possible scenario for any Premiership team, and it is interesting that a group of Americans will play a huge part in trying to save Fulham and its supporters from such a fate.

Dempsey, Johnson and McBride will be counted on to score the majority of the team's goals, while Keller and Bocanegra will be charged with keeping the ball out of the net.

The club has been a Premiership participant since 2001, and despite a few close calls, they have been able to keep their heads above water.

Sunday's win gave Fulham three vital points in an effort to climb out of the relegation zone, and they are now just three points from safety with eight games left.

The next four weeks will tell whether or not Fulham will have a chance to escape the drop zone as they play bottom-half clubs Newcastle, Derby, Sunderland and Reading with each match providing a good chance to pick up points.

Should Fulham survive relegation, they would not be the only beneficiaries. Major League Soccer would also benefit indirectly with MLS alums McBride, Johnson and Dempsey helping out in a big way.

Strong finishes by Dempsey and Johnson in particular would be good examples of the strides that MLS is making to improve its image around the world.

Viewed mostly as irrelevant on the international level, the league would greatly benefit from two of its former stars making an impact in one of the world's top leagues.

Other top MLS players like New England Revolution midfielder Andy Dorman and D.C. United goalkeeper Troy Perkins have moved across the Atlantic, with Chivas USA netminder Brad Guzan drawing interest from both Celtic and Aston Villa.

Outside of the heroic efforts of McBride in the 2002 World Cup, American soccer fans are well aware of the gaping hole that exists in Bob Bradley's starting 11 at striker.

Dempsey played mostly as a midfielder with New England, but his move to striker at Fulham could benefit the national team greatly. With McBride stepping aside, no successor has emerged from a group that includes Dempsey, Johnson, Taylor Twellman, and hopefully, in the near future, Jozy Altidore.

The fact that Dempsey and Johnson get to battle the world's best players on a week-to-week basis can only help their confidence, and as long as their team can survive, the duo will have another whole year to adapt and improve.

There are many different parties that have something to gain if Fulham can stay up, from Fulham and its supporters, to the MLS and the United States National Team, and each one of these entities will be hoping that the team with four wins in 30 games can pick up just a few more.



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Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com
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