Canales Daily: Lewis Lauds Dempsey's Grit At Fulham

Once upon a time, a young American fell out of favor with team management at Fulham. Eddie Lewis' struggle to regain playing time is part of the reason he respects Clint Dempsey's return to the starting lineup at Craven Cottage.
By Andrea Canales

Current Los Angeles Galaxy player Eddie Lewis was the first American to jump from Major League Soccer to England's Fulham, a team that for a while carried a number of Americans.

Now Clint Dempsey remains as the lone regular representative of the U.S. on the Fulham's starting eleven.

Having joined the team back in in 2000 Lewis struggled to find regular playing time with the club, especially after Fulham won promotion to the Premier League. Jean Tigana was the new coach, and since he had not been the one to bring Lewis in, felt no particular inclination to give him a chance.

Lewis acknowledged that his situation was a difficult one. He was eventually able to leave Fulham and join Preston North End in 2002.

"Ultimately, playing time is pretty darn important," said Lewis.

Part of what makes any stint abroad a pressure-filled situation is the merciless nature of what many consider the world's top league.

"It's so much more of a business there," Lewis said of the Premiership. "A new coach can come in and clear everyone out, no matter how you're doing."

As long as a team owner bankrolls the moves, team management can keep switching out players until they find what to them is a winning combination.

"There's no roster limitations," Lewis pointed out. "No one is set with a certain team. If they're not happy with you, they can go out and get someone else, regardless of how much they have to pay. It's extremely hard."

Part of the reason that some Premeirship players can get testy with teammates is that millions could be riding on performance and results.

"The money gets to be so big - you almost lose sight of everything else," Lewis aknowledged. "You're playing for huge contracts, so you're almost trying to keep people out, so they won't infringe on possible appearances - there's a lot that goes on."

The difficulty of establishing a playing career in the Premiership was one reason why Lewis was so impressed with the performance of his remaining compatriot at Fulham.

"Dempsey is an incredible example,"Lewis stated. "Coming into this summer, he was out of favor. I don't think he was expected to have too much of an impact this season."

Dempsey did indeed suffer a dry run of bench time - where he was brought in as a late sub, if at all.

"He got pushed out," Lewis explained. "He literally fought his way back into that team. He's been playing quite a bit. He's scored some important goals for them this season. Honestly, every minute he gets, he's earned."

Producing results under difficult conditions, including a two-goal performance against Chelsea earlier this season, has become Dempsey's trademark.

Those goals might have been the easiest part of Dempsey's hard-fought struggle to start and to prove himself a valuable asset to Fulham. Lewis summed up some of the odds that were stacked against Dempsey.

"He was their leading scorer last season. I think he thought he'd come in this season and be very comfortable in the starting eleven. That's never the case. Certainly never as a foreigner and maybe even a little more so as an American. You get nothing. You constantly have to fight them off and I think he's just done an incredible job."

Whether against Chelsea, or Ghana at the World Cup, Dempsey displays an essential ingredient for success, one that Lewis recognized immediately.

"He's a real competitor," Lewis observed. "Sometimes, as talented as you are, if you don't have that - it's hard to be a foreigner there. It's not like here or anywhere else. Nobody is looking out for you or trying to help you out. Generally you are taking another British guy's position, so it's hard."

Though he didn't mention Freddy Adu or Jozy Altidore, it's possible that Lewis was thinking of them when discussing players who are finding themselves sidelined.

"The guys that aren't getting playing time - it's not necessarily their fault or that they're not talented enough," said Lewis. "It's really hard."

The hardships Lewis endured as a member of Fulham's team are part of the reason why he's rooting on his fellow American, Clint Dempsey.

"All the guys over there who are doing well, they deserve all the credit they get."

Andrea Canales is the Chief Editor of North America.