Home Away From Home: Fulham offers safe harbor for USMNT stars
At the beginning, Brian McBride started his matchday routine at Craven Cottage with a brief stroll through Fulham.
McBride and his teammates drove their cars to a local school and parked them there due to the restrictions in the area. They would then board a bus to wind through the streets of West London and disembark a couple of blocks from the ground.
The entire group completed the final meters of the journey on foot. Players and supporters approached the stadium together and connected along the way. The practice captured the sentiment of a club that worked its way through the lower leagues and the diligent performers representing the team in the Premier League.
“It made for a very unique, but also enjoyable, experience,” McBride — now an analyst for FOX Sports — said. “We got to know the fans and the club a little bit deeper.”
The bonds between McBride, his fellow Americans and the club strengthened day after day, step after step. Marcus Hahnemann and Eddie Lewis started the process prior to the 2002 World Cup, but McBride and Carlos Bocanegra took it to another level entirely when they arrived in January 2004.
FULHAMERICA: THE MEMBERS
|Marcus Hahnemann||1999-2002||Served as backup goalkeeper to start lengthy career in England|
|Eddie Lewis||2000-2002||Featured intermittently before establishing himself elsewhere|
|Brian McBride||2004-2008||Scored 33 times, served as captain and won Player of the Year on two occasions|
|Carlos Bocanegra||2004-2008||Made 116 appearances and wore the armband|
|Kasey Keller||2007-2008||Featured 14 times and started 1-0 victory over Portsmouth to stay in PL in 2008|
|Clint Dempsey||2007-2012, 2013 (loan)||Saved Fulham from relegation in 2007 and played a key role in the run to Europa League final in 2010|
|Eddie Johnson||2008-2011||Spent most of his time with Fulham out on loan|
|Emerson Hyndman||2011-present||Current U.S. international came up through academy|
Bocanegra and McBride laid a foundation still intact today as the U.S. national team prepares to visit for the first time next week to face Colombia. They joined a club willing to embrace them for their energy, their persistence and their skill. They repaid that faith with their commitment and their performances to help the club survive the rigors of the Premier League week after week, year after year.
“It was a nice club to be a part of,” Bocanegra said. “It was a family-type of environment, which was great. We were a little but overshadowed by the other, bigger clubs in London. We could go about our business and fly under the radar a little bit. It was great. The stadium, going by the river every day, you’re in one of the nicest parts of the country. I got to live in London. It was pretty amazing, the whole experience.”
It grew with every passing season as Fulham extended its Premier League stay and the influence of both players increased. They emerged as fixtures in the squad and leaders within the club. Both of them served as captains during their spells with the club. They finished as the top two scorers for the club during the 2006-07 season. McBride even won Player of the Year on two occasions.
Most importantly, they opened the door for other Americans with their successes. Clint Dempsey, Kasey Keller and Eddie Johnson all followed them to Fulham as the decade unfolded. They established a home away from home for Americans, a safe harbor to make that European journey. Dempsey even led one himself all the way to the Europa League final. Fulham transformed into “everyone’s second favorite club over in Europe,” Bocanegra said.
“You don’t look at it as building a cultural fanbase going into the move, but when you start seeing things like Fulhamerica, you start getting that pride about building something, building that tradition,” McBride said.
It endures even now. The path from Bocanegra and McBride all the way through to blossoming midfielder Emerson Hyndman remains unbroken. One American followed another. A full team of them will enter the historic confines next week to grace the field and play in front of the crowd there for the first time as one.
The idea of the U.S. national team playing at Craven Cottage brings the era full circle in some ways. The pinnacle — the days when several American internationals started regularly and supporters from across the United States watched expectantly from back home – passed long ago. This match provides an opportunity to revisit all of the memories, treasure the connections made and underscore the links still binding the club and its adoptive country.
“Clint had a record-breaking year there, Brian was top-scorer for the club,” Bocanegra said. “Americans have definitely left their mark at this club. For the U.S. team to play at Craven Cottage, it’s pretty cool.”
Fulham left its own imprint, too. Bocanegra called his four-year spell there some of the best times of his life and remembered how he used to chat with Americans he encountered in London. McBride recounted how much his family enjoyed his time at the club and talked glowingly about serving on the five-man search committee used by owner Shahid Khan to appoint interim manager Kit Symons as full-time manager last month.
“It was amazing for myself and my family,” McBride said. “You never go into a move to a club thinking there might be a deeper meaning other than just playing soccer there. By the time I left, it certainly felt that way.”
The proof is in the lasting impact on those matchday traditions. A small group of supporters now watches the game from the primary pub inside the Riverside Stand. They call it McBride’s.