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Once there was a club named Fulham FC of the Barclay's Premier League in England where many Americans got their first taste of European soccer, some to reach new heights (Clint Dempsey) and others to rethink their path (Eddie Johnson). It was clear to the team that American soccer players were a valuable asset and it helped them stay afloat in the always-competitive Premiership.
Where Carlos Bocanegra and Brian McBride broke ground, Kasey Keller guarded the doors and suddenly other teams went looking for gold across the Atlantic. In came Tim Ream, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and even Landon Donovan. All except for Ream left too soon, but their legacy remained.
So when Stoke City agreed to terms with up-and-coming Geoff Cameron of MLS' Houston Dynamo, a new pathway open for American players. Cameron settled quickly, closed gaps and made Stoke a better team. Maurice Edu joined before the close of the transfer window but the defensive midfielder did not impress enough, possibly due to his diminished form after Glasgow Rangers folded (he is now on loan to Turkey's Bursaspor). And yet, the Stoke City management decided to roll the dice on American talent one more time: Brek Shea.
I was as surprised as many other fans, no doubt, that the FC Dallas winger could be on his way to the Premier League. He had a lackluster 2012, but so did Tim Ream in 2011 when he signed with Bolton during the January transfer window of 2012. He's a young lad at only 22 and if injuries are overcome and he is patient and disciplined, his skill and speed can become quite an asset. Two goals against Mexico during the USA's term with Klinsmann have been generated through his play and he was a go-to winger in the absence of Landon Donovan.
Are we likely to see any more Americans make the jump to Stoke? Probably not, but the team's commitment to the developing game in the United States cannot be understated. This is why Dempsey joined (and thrives in) Tottenham, and it is why Michael Bradley now plays for Roma. Expect bigger things from our compatriots abroad. Stoke isn't the beginning, that goes to Fulham. Instead, the Trotters are an assertion that American soccer players have joined the elite and are here to stay.