KENYA BROWN - Monday, February 4, 2008
Dempsey has struggled recently
Although it happened a month ago, I wanted to wait a few matches to see how former Finland national team coach Roy Hodgson would begin his tenure as head coach of Fulham before I wrote an 'I told you so!' follow-up.
With the firing of previous boss Lawrie Sanchez, the Cottagers have decided to take a new approach and hopefully escape relegation in what the previous manager considered to be a 'very promising season'.
For those of you that read my article last year titled "Strange Times at the Cottage", I raised several questions about Sanchez' signings, his tactics and what roles the three Yanks (before the addition of goalkeeper Kasey Keller) would play in his plans for the squad.
While Hodgson does bring in great credentials to his new position, those previous questions still remain begin the final third of the schedule.
Hodgson is a rare breed of English head coaches as he has spent most of his managerial career in continental Europe.
Many of us will remember him for the miracle he orchestrated in Switzerland as he led their national team to the 1994 World Cup. He has also coached Italian Serie A clubs Inter Milan and Udinese. With a resume like that, any club would be itching to bring in such a manager.
Having said that, it must be mentioned that Hodgson's last stint at in the English Premier League was with Blackburn Rovers, and I am sure many of their supporters remember how that campaigned ended in 1998.
So, as the former FC Copenhagen manager moves into his second month on the hot seat, the one question that will be asked is can he pull Fulham away from relegation?
Several factors must happen in order for this to happen.
One of the areas he will have to look at improving is the front line.
With former USMNT striker Brian McBride on the injured list until this past weekend, the Fulham attack was looking for a consistent goal scorer. Bluntly put: Sanchez' summer signings of David Healy, Diomansy Kamara and Hameur Bouazza have been awful - they have three, two and one goals respectively.
The good news for Hodgson, is that the former Columbus Crew striker is now back, working 30 minutes on Saturday. His work ethic, determination and his strength in the air are what are needed for this club to get back on track. Also, McBride brings leadership and inspiration to the squad which is desperately needed.
A player that can complement McBride similar to the set up at Tottenham Hotspur with Bulgarian international Dimitar Berbatov and Irish international Robbie Keane comprising the back bone of Spurs attack was also if importance: Enter Eddie Johnson.
While many USMNT supporters and other critics question this transfer, I believe Johnson's move to Fulham could reap dividends to the club who are in desperate need of a goalscorer.
One advantage that the KC Wizards hitman could bring to the squad is the relative sense of being an unknown in a new league. Most of the defenders in the Premiership don't follow MLS or the USMNT, so they would have little idea as to who EJ is and what his strengths and weaknesses are.
Lack of knowledge of a new player could comeback to haunt a player as the Panamanians found out in 2004 when EJ hit a hat trick against them, in the second half.
Another advantage the former FC Dallas striker brings to the table is his quickness. For one, it's going to disrupt the backline when he's off the ball and give more space to the midfield to bring the ball forward.
Second, if the midfield could properly send through balls to him then most of the time he will get onto them. If he's able to convert them into goals will be the big question, as many of his critics have harped on his perceived lack of production. Maybe the change in leagues could be what he needs.
As for the midfield, some changes could be seen there in future as well.
First, you can say goodbye to the Sanchez' dreaded direct style of play, which led to some of the player's in the dressing room fuming. They should be more comfortable with a passing game that the five-time Swedish league champion head coach incorporates, but it will not take effect overnight.
How the club's leading goal scorer, Clint Dempsey will fit into Hodgson's plans will also be questioned.
Having earned his way into the Cottagers' starting eleven this season, the former New England Revolution player has been asked to play up top due to the depleted striking corps. He has bagged six goals so far this season, which puts him in the top 20 of goal scorers in the Premiership this season.
With Erik Nevland joining from FC Groningen, McBride back to health, and the arrival of Johnson, Deuce may move back to the right side of midfield - where should be, as far as I am concerned.
Defensively, the Cottagers rate as one of the worst clubs in goals allowed with a -15 goal differential. Their worst month for allowing goals came in December where they allowed 10 goals in six matches.
Just taking a quick glance at some the Cottager's match reports this season and you can see that while they start off matches fairly well, the defense seems to suffer lapses in the latter stages of matches.
While this writer doesn't believe many changes are needed in the defense, one thing that Hodgson needs to do is restore the confidence of the backline. It's a talented group with the like of Paul Kochesky, Moritz Volz and US international Carlos Bocanegra.
After a stellar campaign last season, Los' is having a down year, his spot in central defense is tenuous at best. Ironically, he has been supplanted by another American, Norway international Brede Hangeland, who like Nevland, played under Hodgson at Viking FK in Norway.
As for the goalkeeper position, it's up in the air. Though former Finland international Antti Niemi has been between the for the past 16 games, Kasey Keller had seemingly won the starting spot before his horrible bicep injury.
Now that he is back, the heavy metal loving, Millwall FC legend could be a vital player for the Cottagers at the back, but has some convincing to do if he will be the man leading the defense for the rest of the campaign.
Hodgson has his work cut out for him, but there is a little light at the end of the tunnel. There are possibly eight clubs above them that are also trying to maintain their status in the league. So, if the mythical safety number is 40 points, the Cottagers still have a chance to pull off a great escape from relegation.
The most important thing that the former England candidate could do right now is to restore the confidence of the squad and the one way of doing that is building upon the three points earned from Aston Villa on Saturday.
While Fulham has still played poorly since Hodgson joined in January, they have played much better than when Sanchez was at the helm.
Hopefully Hodgson and his Yanks corps will be celebrating escaping life in the Championship next season.
At least without Sanchez, they have a shot. Just like I said before the season started.