As reward and recognition for a fine season's work, Fulham will be represented at the World Cup in five different squads – three of the African sides plus Mark Schwarzer's Australia and the United States – but their midfielder Clint Dempsey is claiming supporters' loyalties on the basis that his national team are the Cottagers in stars and stripes.
The small problem for patriots on the Hammersmith End, of course, is that the States' first opposition in Group C are none other than England, but after that they should be able to enjoy the similarities with the football they are used to. As Dempsey, who is likely to be in a familiar berth on the flank puts it: "We both play 4-4-2, our outside midfield players tuck in rather than being wingers and we keep two solid banks of four. We're very strong defensively, like Fulham. We try to frustrate our opponents and make life difficult for them. Whether it's Fulham or the US, we have players who are confident and believe they can win every game they play in. You want guys who believe that."
Giving away more than may be advisable, he even spells out how the US will be attempting to emulate the way Roy Hodgson's side overcame teams like Manchester United, Liverpool and Juventus last season: "We beat Man United by staying compact defensively, with those two banks of four, choosing our moments to get forward. The US play in a similar style to Fulham and we'll try and do the same thing. Every time you play a top team and get a result you take positives from it, whether it be United, Liverpool or Chelsea."
At international level, make that Spain, the European champions they defeated at the Confederations Cup in South Africa last summer, before leading Brazil 2-0 at half-time in the final, only to lose 3-2. "Beating Spain last summer was a complete game for us, in the sense that we took our chances and made life difficult for them. In the first half against Brazil we did the same thing, but couldn't hold on to it. We've shown a few times that when we're on top of game we're tough to beat, but we're going to have to bring our A-game to get out of the group.
"I'm used to being the underdog whether with Fulham or the US, and it suits us, because we just stick to what we're good at. That's the way it'll be until we change people's perceptions. The most important thing is having players who believe they can win any game they play in."
Dempsey, a Texan, was speaking yesterday at the quaint rural training headquarters of the US squad, all farm smells and clucking hens. It is as far removed as imaginable from the bustle of their Hamburg base at the 2006 World Cup, where defeats by the Czech Republic and Ghana meant an early flight home and unemployment for the coach Bruce Arena. His successor Bob Bradley has brought in a number of younger players, including his son Michael, who should be alongside Dempsey in midfield on Saturday, as well as building up an all-for-one attitude. There have been motivational talks by a number of figures including Dan Jolotta, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross after leading rescue missions into Mogadishu, Somalia, which became the subject of the book and film Black Hawk Down.
"The speakers helped us with team bonding," Dempsey said. "They brought us their experiences about coming together for one team goal, putting egos aside and putting personal glory aside. It is about the team. Everyone on the same page." The page that lists Saturday's squad will naturally have 11 names more prominent than others. Dempsey will expect to be one of those wide players tucking inside, with DaMarcus Beasley, who was briefly at Manchester City and has just left Rangers, on the other side. Unless there is a clever bluff going on, it sounds as if that pair will sit tight, wait for Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole to go forward and then exploit the spaces left: "Glen Johnson is a good player, effective going forward, but when he gets forward we have a chance to hit them on the counter and give them something to worry about. Both their full-backs like to get forward and will leave holes."
Lessons learnt there from the Premier League. So back to Fulham again: "No one thought Fulham would get to the final of the Europa League, but we did that. No one thought we'd get to the final of the Confederations Cup, but we did that. It doesn't matter what anybody thinks of us, it only matters what people inside the group think of themselves. If you have belief then it's contagious. You can't live life in fear. You've got to go out and take advantage of the opportunities you get to do something special. The guys here have that mentality and we have to show that in these games."
Five Americans who can hurt England
Americans love their stats and the LA Galaxy forward has given them plenty to tot up from his 10 years and 123 appearances with the national team: 42 goals and 45 assists are both national records. After his spell at Goodison, Everton fans will testify he can be a threat.
"Gooch", the big central defender, may hurt England's strikers in a literal sense, which will test Wayne Rooney's powers of self-control. Strong in the air, he has Champions League experience with Milan but was unimpressive during a loan move to Newcastle in 2007.
Experienced captain used to European football after four seasons at Fulham – where he was also used at centre-back – and two with Rennes. Will hope to test Aaron Lennon and Glen Johnson with threatening runs and crosses from his left-back position.
Has become a cult figure at Fulham after being signed from New England Patriots by Chris Coleman in 2007. Has flourished under Roy Hodgson and has the happy knack of weighing in with crucial goals – witness his stunning winner against Juventus in the Europa League.
The athletic striker, who plays for LA Galaxy, has suddenly emerged as a serious contender to start on Saturday after seven years of being ignored since his first cap. England's spies were impressed as he bagged two fine goals against Australia last weekend.Reuse content