American players aren't often the most highly thought of in English football. Many regard those of us across the pond to not have the most innate sense of love or passion for the beautiful game, but in the last few years several American players have made those in the English Premier League take notice.
Brian McBride had an excellent career at Fulham, scoring 41 goals in 151 appearances between 2004 and 2008. Tim Howard and Brad Friedel have risen to be two of the best goalkeepers in the EPL for Everton and Aston Villa respectively, and American starlet Landon Donovan experienced an excellent loan spell at Everton last season.
However, none of them have arrived at the level that Clint Dempsey has for an American as of Saturday, and few of them have had the kind of impact that he has in the last two seasons. Dempsey has been the rising star of the Cottagers for several seasons now. Last season he helped to lead them to the final of the 2010 Europa League.
Although they failed to achieve victory against Atletico Madrid, the feat of getting so far by a team that many regarded to be a mid-table bottom-feeding club in England was magnificent to watch.
Dempsey played a key role throughout the Cottagers' league campaign and Europa journey last season and scored what may have been the goal of the tournament last year when he put a masterful long-range chip shot into the net past the Juventus keeper, but he is starting to have an effect on his club this year that few realize or would ever have believed possible.
Having joined Fulham after only two seasons in Major League Soccer, he arrived untested and un-enthusing to many in the English game. Fulham had been nicknamed "Fulham America" at one time for having so much faith in American talent, but it seemed true to form with the arrival of Dempsey.
He made his name in college as a central midfielder for the Furman Paladins and rose through the ranks of the New England Revolution during their prime after being selected eighth in the 2004 MLS Draft. He scored 25 goals in 71 appearances for the Revs and was the 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year and earned his most significant achievement to date as the 2006 Honda Player of the Year.
With his credentials established in the States, Dempsey eyed a move internationally. Charlton Athletic had already been denied the services of the young midfielder when he was still under contract with New England in early 2006, and Dempsey knew that possibly the only chance to get his way was to make it happen once a free agent.
Fulham offered him a contract in 2006 after acquiring his services for four million pounds in an agreement with MLS, and upon arrival he set out to win the fans' hearts and truly did so, as he scored a vital goal against Liverpool to keep the Cottagers from being relegated to the English Championship during the last days of the 2006-2007 EPL season.
Dempsey continued to make his way in the EPL throughout the next two seasons, and in the 2009-2010 season he finally staked his major claim to fame for the Cottagers. With the London club's introduction into European competition in the newly formed Europa League, no one knew that they would find themselves in the final.
Dempsey helped lead the charge from the beginning to the end, as he scored his first goal in European competition against Amkar Perm in the qualifying phase of the competition. An injury slowed his League and European hopes in January after just being named in the English Premier League's top 11 Players by Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport.
He returned as a substitute against Juventus on March 18, 2010 and scored the previously mentioned master class strike to help seal the Cottagers' advancement in their European dream of a campaign. The goal is still debated as to whether it is or will be considered the most important goal in Fulham's history, considering that it knocked out one of the most successful teams in Italy's history.
Dempsey made further history, as he became the first American to ever play in a European final when he came on as a substitute against Atletico Madrid. Although the Mattress Makers would lift the Europa League Cup thanks to a 116th-minute winner from Diego Forlan in extra time, Fulham nonetheless had made a great success out of their European journey, though they slumped to 12th in the League.
This season has seen Dempsey achieve something no other American player has in England. He scored his 10th goal in the Premier League Saturday in the Cottagers' disappointing loss to Everton. He is now tied for seventh in the Premier League scoring table with Spurs' Rafael van der Vaart, West Brom's Peter Obemwingie and Manchester United's Javier Hernandez.
Having scored his 10th against fellow American Tim Howard seems almost ironic but possibly makes it all the sweeter. Fellow American and Former Fulham teammate Brian McBride scored nine goals in successive seasons but never was able to score 10 while in England.
However, Dempsey's goals this season have meant as much to his club as anyone. Dempsey’s league goal tally of 10 accounts for over 30 percent of Fulham’s 33 goals in the league this season. Fulham’s second-leading scorer, Damien Duff, has only four goals compared to Dempsey's 10, and the American's three assists are second in only to Welsh midfielder Simon Davies' total of four.
Dempsey's strikes also have given the team a decisive boost when it comes to points earned this season. Saturday's loss at Everton was the first game the Cottagers have lost this League campaign in which Dempsey has scored.
His two braces against Wigan Athletic and Stoke City were the difference, and his strikes against Blackburn, West Ham United, Birmingham City and Aston Villa all guaranteed draws and not losses. All totaled, Fulham have three wins, four draws and only one loss, earning 13 out of 24 points, when Dempsey is on the score sheet.
Dempsey's strikes also have meant a lot to the United States men's national team. Looking at the last 10 games he has scored in for the United States going back to 2007, they have seven wins, one draw and two losses.
Either way you look at it, if Dempsey puts one in the back of the net for club or country, it is highly influential.
The future continues to look bright for the just turned 28-year-old, as his rise to prominence in the English Premier League and on the international stage is sure to have larger clubs looking to sign him away from London during the summer.