Pundits around Britain will no doubt be discussing Fulham’s great escape in the upcoming weeks. Seemingly dead, the London side strung together some improbable results, particularly away from Craven Cottage to escape relegation on goal difference. Was it Jimmy Bullard’s return from injury, the timely striking of Dionmansy Kamara or even the managing of Roy Hodgson, a man left on the dust bin of British football but one of the few English managers of the last 15 years to really make it outside of the U.K? Truth is it was all of the above and something more: American Grit.
Fulham is after all the closet thing we have ever had or will ever have to an “American team” in Europe. The Cottagers have now for years been buying players from MLS, and for years have done enough with what they had to avoid relegation. It all started in 1999 when Fulham bought Marcus Hahnemann and Eddie Lewis from MLS in a push to move to the Premier League. The side had just been promoted to the old first division at the time. Lewis stayed with the team until they were finally promoted in 2001 to the Premier League, and that was the start of Fulham’s now eight year run in the top flight. Since then the club unlike many in Europe has not hesitated to scout and ultimately purchase American players from MLS clubs.
That’s why despite downplaying the significance of Fulham’s survival effort several months ago, I have felt the last few weeks Fulham had to escape relegation to keep going any positive momentum the US has created perception wise in Europe. Fulham’s failure could easily be pinned on its American contingent. Today Fulham’s success can just as easily be credited to the character of its American legion, led by none other than arguably the greatest and most important footballer our nation has ever produced, Goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Keller hasn’t played for the most glamorous clubs or for the most titles. In fact Keller has never once played in a Champions League match. However, he is as I have stated repeatedly before, perhaps the best keeper I have ever seen and if I had to pick a stopper for any odd one off match it would be him, even 38. He’s a keeper that has played at smaller clubs and excelled at those clubs. Four of the clubs Keller played keeper at are now in lower divisions than when he minded their nets. That’s how important he has always been to the teams he has played for. Keller is one of the great goalkeepers internationally of the last fifteen years. No greater star than Romario was so dazzled by Keller’s performance against Brazil in 1998 that he actually said “it was truly an honor to be on the field with him.”