Pressure? That’s what Fulham Football Club was feeling in late April and early May, as the losses mounted and relegation from the English Premiership was looking more and more like a reality.
Clint Dempsey, the former Revolution star, was sure feeling it, having transferred to the Cottagers in January for an MLS-record $4 million. But he was under the gun for more than just the on-field situation. His fiancee, Bethany Keegan, had just lined up a rare internship in London for the coming fall, and was all set to live with Dempsey after their July 28 wedding.
But what if the Cottagers went down? Where would Dempsey end up? Would the newcomer who had not established himself as a regular be sold, especially with Chris Coleman – the manager who brought in Dempsey – sacked just a few weeks before?
When Dempsey took the field against Liverpool at Craven Cottage the first weekend in May, those fears rifled through his mind – and spurred him on. The “Texas Tornado” went out and whipped up a salvation storm, scoring his first Premiership goal that earned Fulham a 1-0 victory against Liverpool, effectively assuring the club’s top-flight survival.
“Thank the good Lord above that everything worked out,” Dempsey said yesterday while with the U.S. national team at Harvard, “because I’m playing where I want to be, in the Premier League, and also my soon-to-be wife will be able get her internship so she can finish up her master’s degree.”
From despair to jubilation in the matter of a day, that’s the life of a major international soccer player. And that’s what Dempsey is now, a full-fledged starter for Team USA who is expected to take the field tonight at Gillette Stadium when the Americans face El Salvador in the final Group B game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
This is Dempsey’s first trip back since the January transfer. He’s looking forward to seeing his former Revs teammates and coaches, and to playing in front of his former supporters. But the MLS chapter of his career is now over, and a bigger one is set to begin.
Dempsey now looks at his first five months in the EPL as “a learning experience to set me up for this season.” New Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez showed faith in the American, and he could be joining fellow U.S. internationals Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra in the Cottagers starting 11 when the new season commences in August.
“He’s looking for me to make a difference, and I’m trying to carry those positives at the end of last season into the new one,” Dempsey said. “I’m going to be starting with everyone else, unlike last year when everyone else was midseason fit.”
He also will return as a bonafide Fulham legend.
“I probably still haven’t grasped the full importance of it, as I was just trying to help the team out,” Dempsey said.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley doesn’t see a change in Dempsey’s game. Bradley, however, did point out that the Fulham experience has changed Dempsey as a person.“Right off the bat you understand that nothing is ever given to you,” Bradley said. “When you go there, and it’s not given to you, and you have to work hard to earn something, I think that changes you as a player.”