For Fulham, Dempsey set to become first U.S. player in European final.
By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.)
(Thursday, May 6, 2010) -- Clint Dempsey will become the first American to ever play for a major trophy in Europe with Fulham when the English Premier League Cottagers travel to Hamburg, Germany's Nordank Arena to face Spain's Atletico Madrid in the Europa League championship match.
Somewhat surprisingly, Fulham made it into the title match on the strength of a come-from-behind 2-1 victory Thursday over visting Hamburg SV of the German Bundesliga. This gave Fulham a 2-1 aggregate for the two-match series following a 0-0 draw April 22 at Hamburg.
Fulham meets Spain's Atletico Madrid which needed an extra-time strike by Diego Forlan to beat Liverpool of the EPL 1-0.
On Thursday, Hamburg took a 1-0 lead on a 22nd -minute goal by Mladen Petric. Dempsey came on in the 57th minute replacing limping Bobby Zamora as the lone striker.
Simon Davies scored in the 69th and Zoltan Gera in the 76th to give Fulham its decision. Dempsey played strong defense to protect the lead and picked up his first yellow card of the Europa League campaign in the final minute for wasting time.
In the first leg, played during the airline embargo in Europe because of the Icelandic volcano, Fulham had to travel for a full day to reach Hamburg via English Channel ferry and motor coach. In this game, Dempsey also came on in the second half -- in the 74th minute -- and helped keep the home side off the scoreboard which gave Fulham an advantage in the return home leg.
While Dempsey was a reserve against Hamburg, he has been starting in the Premier League.
Last night, he went the distance in a 1-0 loss to visiting Stoke City. Dempsey had a good chance to score in the second half, but was denied by goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. Dempsey also had a shot saved by Begovic in the seventh minute and had a short shot tipped wide by Begovic later in the first half.
On Sunday, Dempsey played 86th minutes and scored a goal in a 3-2 home defeat of West Ham United.
After hitting the crossbar from 20 yards in the 26th minute, Dempsey opened the scoring in first-half stoppage time when he collected a pass from Simon Davies and hit a hard shot past West Ham keeper Robert Green.
An own goal by Carlton Cole put Fulham ahead 2-0 shortly after the restart. Cole redeemed himself when he headed West Ham back into the game, but Fulham substitute Stefano Okaka put Fulham ahead 3-1 from close range in the 79th minute. An injury-time goal from Guillermo Franco was the final gasp by West Ham.
American Jonathan Spector went the distance on the back-line for West Ham. Last week, Spector was charged with an own goal, but West Ham still prevailed 3-2 over Wigan Athletic to avoid relegation.
On April 25, Fulham traveled north to Everton and Dempsey faced off against U.S. keeper Tim Howard. Fulham rested a number of starters ahead of its return clash with Hamburg, but Dempsey played 90 minutes in the center of midfield.
Everton won on a penalty kick in the third minute of stoppage time.
With one match remaining, Fulham is in 12th place at 12-15-10 with 46 points. After a 0-0 draw with Stoke City Saturday, Everton (15-9-13, 58 points) will finish in eighth place -- one match remains -- and failed to earn a berth in the the Europa League next season. The fifth-, sixth- and seventh-place teams made the Europa League.
Everton thought it had scored in the 74th minute against Stoke, but the goal was disallowed for a foul that was not readily seen.
Hull City (6-20-11, 29) was relegated following a 2-2 draw Monday with Wigan. U.S. striker Jozy Altidore did not play and his career at Hull is certainly at an end following being sent off last week in Hull's 1-0 loss over visiting Sunderland.
As the halftime whistle was about to blow, Altidore and Sunderland defender Alan Hutton collided going after a ball which landed out-of-touch. Altidore ended up on the ground and Hutton took the ball and dropped it on Altidore's head. Altidore jumped up and head-butted Hutton in the face.
Referee Lee Probert immediately red-carded Altidore. After he received treatment, Hutton was sent off also. Had Altidore not retaliated, Hull would have had a man advantage the second half. Playing 10-on-10, Hull lost 1-0 and the loss doomed Hull to relegation with two matches left to play.
Going into the match, Hull's only chance of escaping the drop was to win its final three games.
Altidore was suspended for three matches and thus would miss Hull's final two matches of 2009-10. Hull's financial situation is perilous. The team is desperately trying to avoid going into "administration," a kind of bankruptcy, and have said it will have to cut expenses to the bone next season.
Altidore is on the squad through an expensive loan from Villarreal of Spain, something Hull will not be able to afford next season.
"I'm so sorry about yesterday," Altidore said. "(I) made a stupid, immature and costly mistake. I apologize to Hull City and the fans who I let down. I let my emotions get the best of me and lost my composure."
Aston Villa will be playing in the Europa League next season despite a 3-1 road loss at Manchester City Saturday.
American keeper Brad Friedel's clean sheet in last week's 1-0 victory at home over Birmingham City made the Man, City match meaningless. Against Birmingham, the match came down to an 83rd-minute penalty kick.
Friedel had seven saves, including a beauty, denying Craig Gardner who hit a 25-yard bullet. Brad Guzan was again Friedel's backup in both Villa matches.
Villa finished sixth at 17-7-13 with 64 points.
A series of draws over the past month guaranteed that U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemannand Wolverhampton avoided being dropped and will play again in the Premiership next season.
On April 24, Hahnemann made a half dozen saves in a 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers.
Ryan Nelsen, who once toiled for D.C. United in Major League, was the one who beat Hahnemann off a corner kick.
Safe from relegation, Wolves' defense was lax Saturday and Portsmouth, which will drop to the second division, yet has advanced to the FA Cup final, won a home game 3-1.
In the English League Championship, Jay DeMerit remains sidelined with a stomach muscle strain, but Watford secured a return to the second division their survival with a pair of nice wins. On Sunday, Watford won a 4-0 road contest at Coventry City.
A week earlier, Watford defeated Reading 3-0 on goals by Danny Graham and Heidar Helguson.
American defender Frank Simek did not dress for either of Sheffield Wednesday's final two matches, a defeat and a draw that saw them relegated. On Saunday, Wednesday drew 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace after dropping a 3-2 decision at Cardiff City.
U.S. forward Kenny Cooper did not dress for relegated Plymouth, which dropped its final two matches of the season, 3-0 at Nottingham Forest and 2-1 to Peterborough United.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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