Before attending a match at Fulham’s Craven Cottage, you can have a beer at McBride’s the pub named after the great American striker Brian McBride, now a Fulham legend. Fulham, a small club in the west of London, has always been in the shadow of its larger neighbor, Chelsea. But at no other club in Europe have American internationals made their presence felt in the way they have at Fulham.
This Wednesday Fulham, a team with no significant trophies, will compete in only the second final in its long history. It will come in the form of the Europa League final, a second-tier of European competition, where the Cottagers will face off against Atletico Madrid. All but certain to feature in this match, and currently favored to start, is Clint Dempsey, the American winger/striker who has played a key role in Fulham’s progression through this competition over the past season. Dempsey is currently the most capped player at Fulham—that is, he has appeared for the club more than any other active player.
Dempsey has a history of big goals for Fulham. He was transferred to the Premier League after the 2006 MLS season, signed by Fulham in 2006 for a transfer fee of roughly 4 million dollars His first, and arguably most important goal for the club came in late 2007, when he came off the bench to score against Liverpool, giving Fulham a 1-0 result that secured the club’s Premier League status with one match left. At that time, three Americans were on roster at Fulham, Dempsey, McBride, and current National Team captain Carlos Bocanegra. Now Dempsey is the only American on the club’s roster—McBride returned to MLS and Bocanegra now plays in France, while Eddie Johnson has come and gone from West London.
Dempsey’s injury in January left him sidelined for over two months, yet, he has still played a critical role in Fulham’s cup run, including scoring the stunning final goal in the incredible four-goal comeback in late March against Juventus. If you have not seen this goal, I urge you to watch it below. Grant Wahl suggested this was the greatest strike ever by an American playing for his club.
With Fulham’s leading goal-scorer Bobby Zamora likely to be sidelined for the final, Dempsey will probably start the match—which will be his last before joining the National Team in the lead-up to the World Cup. Will Dempsey be able to make an impact in what is arguably the most important club match ever played by an American? Having scored ten days prior in Fulham’s match against West Ham, Dempsey is in strong form and, just maybe, provide the spark that will make Fulham’s fairy-tale dream a reality. Whatever Dempsey does in this final, however, it will be a first for an American, and Wednesday will be an important moment in American soccer history, as for the first time, an American will count himself among the twenty-two men playing for a European trophy. Should Fulham prevail, it will be the first time an American has won a European trophy, and when the praise is given out for Fulham’s remarkable run, Clint Dempsey should certainly be high on the list.
Sean McElroy is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming.