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Americans Abroad Seek Life Preservers

Few players from the U.S. have had a great deal of success in the European leagues, and even fewer have played well in the English Premier League. Except for a few keepers, one could argue Americans have had little to no impact in the EPL.

However, in recent years, one club in the EPL, Fulham FC, has consistently signed U.S. talent. In fact, close to a majority of the U.S. players in the Premiership (its sad that 5 is close to a majority) play for Fulham: Carlos Bocanegra, Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Team Captain Brian McBride.

The Cottagers though are currently in danger of being relegated out of the first division for the first time since 2000. With five games remaining the bottom of the tables look like this:

  • Reading (32)
  • Birmingham (30)
  • Bolton (26)
  • Fulham (24)
  • Derby (11)

Three of these teams are going to be demoted out of The Big Show, but which ones? Derby is definitely screwed…

Only one U.S. player calls Derby home and that player, Benny Feilhaber, only has played sparingly for Derby. Derby has already been officially knocked out of the battle to avoid relegation and are now consigned to try and play spoiler.

If Derby could only win one game all season without Benny, its curious why they would not give him more of an opportunity to play. In any event, Benny’s bunch is done. You can stick a fork in them. It certainly doesn’t help that they finish the season against five teams whose average league position is 8.8 either. I believe a year-end schedule like this is just insult to injury.

Derby does have one chance to do something pivotal for Fulham though. If Derby can knock off Reading during the season’s last game, it could help propel Fulham above Reading in the standings and keep the Cottagers free from relegation.

Of course, seeing as how they have only prevailed once all season (and that was all the way back in September), Fulham better not have to count on Derby to help. After all, we are talking about a team that went from early October to two days before Christmas without scoring a single goal (shut out eight straight games, ouch).

Derby may be done, but Fulham is alive and kicking, but just barely. The Cottagers are six points back with five games to play, and their final opponents have an average league position of 10.4. Their games against Portsmouth, Manchester City and Liverpool will be very tough, and Fulham needs to at least win one of those games and escape from another with a point to still be in the mix come May 11th. However, Fulham absolutely, positively MUST defeat Reading this Saturday and Birmingham City on May 3rd to have any chance of staying in the top flight.

Bolton, meanwhile, finishes against opponents with an average league position of 10th. One thing in Fulham’s favor regarding Bolton is the fact that none of Bolton’s remaining games are pushovers, and Bolton may be in the difficult position of facing Chelsea on the league’s final day. This would not bode well for Bolton as Chelsea may be playing for a Premiership title at that point.

Jonathan Spector, U.S. defenseman, could play a crucial role in bringing Bolton below Fulham on the tables. Spector plays for West Ham United, who face off against Bolton this Saturday. If Bolton loses and Fulham can upset Reading, Fulham would move up one spot and possibly within three points of avoiding relegation.

Of course, Birmingham could keep its lead at 6 points with a win over Everton. Everton features U.S. keeper Tim Howard, who has had arguably the best career of any American in the EPL. Currently poised at 5th, Everton should make short work of Birmingham City, who actually has the toughest stretch run of any of the pertinent teams. Their final five opponents have an average league position of 8.6.

In addition, American keeper Brad Friedel and his squad, the Blackburn Rovers, take on Birmingham in the season’s final game. Ironically, it could be two American keepers (Howard and Friedel) who don’t play at Craven Cottage who actually keep Fulham afloat in the EPL.

Finally, Reading appears to be the candidate least likely to be demoted. A win against Fulham on Saturday and Birmingham and Bolton losses would make Reading’s relegation nearly statistically impossible.

With Americans Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann on board (though Convey’s development has been slowed by injury), Reading should solidify their place in the top division of the EPL after climbing the ladder into the league last year. Their final five opponents are by far the weakest overall of any of the clubs discussed above with an average league position of 13.6, including the disastrous Derby.

Another factor to consider is where these team’s will be playing their final five games. Reading, Fulham and Bolton all have three away games and two home games, while Derby and Birmingham have three home games and two away games.

Fulham is almost certain to lose to Liverpool at home too, so it could really all come down to whether the Cottagers can pick up a win at either Manchester City or Portsmouth. If they can win one road game and defeat (not draw) Reading and Birmingham, Fulham can stay in England’s top flight and America can rejoice at not having to painfully watch five of its finest players relegated to a less competitive league.

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