By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 7, 2012) US Soccer Players -- The moment Clint Dempsey’s transfer to Tottenham was official, an era in American soccer at least temporarily came to an end. “Fulhamerica,” for years the American soccer player's likeliest English destination, had followed in the footsteps of Germany's Bayer Leverkusen. Where once there were several American players making a difference at the club, now there are none.
For the first time since 2003, Fulham has no US National Team eligible American on in its first team. The specificity is due to American-born but otherwise Norwegian defender Brede Hangeland, who has over 70 caps with Norway. It's sort of fitting that he plays for Fulham, given their dedication to the American soccer player. Still, as things stand, for the first time in almost a decade there's a disconnect between being an American fan of Fulham and having a US player to cheer.
It was Marcus Hahnemann and Eddie Lewis who first brought American flavor to Fulham while the club was in the second tier of English soccer. Hahnemann joined Fulham in 1999 with Lewis following a year later. Lewis spent three years in London before moving on, but the seeds were sown for the Cottagers to have an American presence for all but one of the first twelve seasons of the new century. The rise of Fulham to the Premier League and the consolidation of their place as a perennial competitor in the top flight coincided with the sudden infusion of American soccer talent.
After loan stints to Preston North End and Everton, Brian McBride joined Fulham from MLS in 2004. The production the Cottagers got out of McBride for the reasonable sum of $1.5 million set the stage for the club’s interest in Americans as a low-cost, high-value options. McBride scored five goals in nineteen appearances that first year, justifying the investment and giving new credence that American players coming out of MLS could impact the English game. At the same time, Fulham found that Americans could defend as well. Chicago Fire center back Carlos Bocanegra signed with the team in the same month as McBride and immediately became a versatile contributor.
If Hahnemann and Lewis carried the American flag to Fulham for the first time, it was McBride and Bocanegra who planted it firmly in the turf at Craven Cottage.
Four seasons and 33 goals later, McBride’s legend reached high enough status that the pub at Craven Cottage was named “McBride’s” in his honor. Bocanegra appeared over 100 times for Fulham in multiple positions and establish himself as a fan favorite before leaving in 2008. The pair helped Fulham remain in the Premier League despite the club’s budget concerns, turning the Cottagers and their cozy stadium into attractive overachievers.
With the addition of Clint Dempsey for a then-record MLS sale price of $4 million and the signing of American goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller in 2007, Fulham reached the height of the “Fulhamerica” era. At one point, the club included five American internationals on its roster. Outside of MLS, no other club in the world was home to more top-level American soccer players. It was natural American fans would gravitate to the club, particularly as the amount of English soccer on American television exploded during the same time frame.
Dempsey made his mark at Fulham with his first goal, the winner against Liverpool that helped Fulham avoid relegation in 2007. Since then, he’s passed McBride for the club’s all-time Premier League goal scoring record, helped the club to a Europa League final appearance, and turned himself into one of the Premier League’s top scorers. Dempsey made it easy for more Americans to side with Fulham.
The simplest way for any American fan to pick a European club to follow, without the benefit of familial connections or previous experience, was to go with the club with the most American players. For most of the last decade, that was Fulham.
Dempsey's move to Spurs begs a question that normally isn't asked in English soccer. Without the American connection, is this is the end of the Fulhamerica era. There is an American in the pipeline at the club, 16-year old Emerson Hyndman (grandson of Schellas Hyndman), but there’s no guarantee the young player will play with the senior squad. Even if he is destined to play for Fulham’s first team, Hyndman is at least a few years away. That means, unless the club buys an American player between now and a possible Emerson Hyndman debut, Fulham’s status as America’s team is in question.
The Fulhamerica era as it relates to players might well be over. Yet, Dempsey and those Americans who played with and before him at the club leave in their wake an entire generation of American soccer fans with a deep attachment to the Cottagers. For that reason, and because so many will remember the heyday of Americans there fondly, Fulham Football Club will always be at least a little bit Fulhamerican.
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