American pipeline to the Premiership

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Roman Abramovich's Russian revolution at Chelsea changed the English Premier League's status quo when he bought the club in 2003 and began pumping millions of pounds into high-priced transfers.

Two miles down the road from Stamford Bridge, fans of Fulham can claim a revolution of their own – one draped in red, white and blue.

In Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and Kasey Keller, the Cottagers have the highest concentration of United States internationals of any club in Europe. None of the four are household names or can claim to have drastically altered Premiership history, but all of them have had a positive impact.

McBride, currently sidelined with a dislocated kneecap, has a reputation as an exemplary professional and an outstanding role model, having played more than 100 Premiership games.

Bocanegra, who captained the U.S. in its recent friendly against Brazil, is an integral part of Fulham's starting lineup as a hard-working defender, while Dempsey has emerged as a potential star, having received acclaim from rival managers for his performances in Fulham's attack this season.

Keller, brought in as a replacement while first-choice goalkeeper Antti Niemi was injured, is back in the Premiership after spending two years in Germany with Borussia Moenchengladbach. The 37-year-old is expected to provide some stability between the posts when called upon.

Fulham is a club that is often tipped for relegation but has defied the cynics by staying in the top flight without too many scares since 2001. Boss Lawrie Sanchez has often commented that the U.S. contingent bring a high level of physical conditioning, work ethic, professionalism and team spirit – vital components for a club in Fulham's position.

This Saturday, Fulham visits Chelsea, and if the Cottagers want to make a point against their West London neighbor, so too do their American players – every time they take the field.

"We always have a lot to prove because our country doesn't have such a long tradition of playing soccer," Dempsey said. "When people look at us, they have that in the back of their minds.

"Slowly and surely that is starting to change, and when you go somewhere you are representing your country. We are doing a good job with that at Fulham."

McBride, a U.S. national team stalwart and former member of Columbus Crew, was the first to join Fulham in 2003 after long spells at Everton and Preston.

"You ask any Fulham fan and they will tell you they love Brian," said former manager Chris Coleman, now in charge of Spanish side Real Sociedad. "He is 100 percent a team player."

Bocanegra arrived from the Chicago Fire soon after McBride, and he admits the presence of a fellow countryman was a huge help. Together, he and McBride have assisted Dempsey with the settling-in process.

"It is nice to have other American guys around," Bocanegra said. "We can relate to things happening in the States and help each other.

"It was tremendous for me that Brian was there when I came in. He has so much experience and knowledge – then Clint came over and we tried to help him out. It is another friend in the locker room. We chit-chat about college life and U.S. sports. The English guys and French guys have no idea what we are talking about."

The efforts of the Fulham Four are helping to convince more Premiership skeptics that the North American talent pool is one worth tapping into.

Benny Feilhaber has settled in at Premiership bottom-feeder Derby and a string of goalkeepers – namely Brad Friedel, Marcus Hahnemann and Tim Howard – are well-established first-team regulars. Kansas City Wizards striker Eddie Johnson is likely to be in the Premiership within the next year and more talented MLS youngsters like Jozy Altidore of New York Red Bulls could follow over the next few years.

MLS executives obviously want to hold on to their best talent if possible, but the success of league graduates in Europe helps raise the international reputation of MLS' competition. Since David Beckham's arrival in July, more English-based players are contemplating a move Stateside, says Bocanegra.

"Before you would rarely get other guys in the locker room talking about MLS. But there has been a lot more interest lately," Bocanegra said. "They want to know about the different cities they play in and the travelling distances.

"There is huge money on offer in England, so it will be tough to get guys in their prime. But there is definitely more awareness and it will appeal to some."

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