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Though there are several leagues across the globe chock full of skilled players, everyone knows that, when it comes to the best, the Premier League is where you’ll find the crème de la crème of footballers. Fans worship watching them, and young, soon-to-be phenoms dream of playing with them. It takes a unique stew of qualities to forge a Premier League career: hunger, moxie, and a dauntless competitive spirit that few could harness. It’s truly a rarity for anyone to breach the hallowed gates of a Premier League club, yet for American players, that can be an even more elusive dream.
Naturally disadvantaged from the jump by being geographically located across the pond, only 49 Americans have ever played in the Premier League. That’s a staggeringly low number, considering the league was formed in 1992, and there are currently 515 players across 20 teams. That’s why the athletes from the States who do successfully bridge that chasm are celebrated like heroes, including the likes of Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Brian McBride, Jozy Altidore and, of course, the iconic goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who still holds the record for the most consecutive appearances, having played in every single game for eight straight seasons (for clubs Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and Tottenham). They’re legends in their own right, but torches are meant to be passed, and there's now a new crop of world-class, American footballers who have the privileged honor of representing the Stars and Stripes in soccer’s top flight.
Now in the twilight of his career, the 34-year-old Saint Louis native has been a fixture at center back for Fulham since the 2015-2016 season, making an impressive 236 appearances for The Cottagers. Last season, Ream played in all 46 matches, using his crucial ability to remain composed under pressure to afford attackers like Aleksandar Mitrović the opportunity to fire Fulham to the top spot in the English Championship division and earn promotion to the Premier League. Now, after signing a one-year contract extension in May, the well-regarded leader has his sights set on achieving Premier League stability with The Cottagers.
Honored with his nickname of “Captain America,” Pulisic, the son of two collegiate soccer players who hails from Hershey, Pennsylvania, has shown glimpses of brilliance in the Premier League ever since transferring from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea in 2019 in a $73 million move that made him the most expensive North American player of all time. At a lean 5’8, what he lacks in height, he surely makes up for in tenacity. With Pulisic’s speed on the flank, advanced footwork and innovative passing make, it's easy to see his world-class potential, which is why U.S. fans are pining for him to get more regular playing time in Chelsea's starting XI, especially with the World Cup looming.
Despite being in his first year for Leeds, the 23-year-old already has a tall task ahead of him effectively replacing Kalvin Phillips, who departed the club for Manchester City over the summer. Though he’s yet to leather a goal in his six appearances this season, the aggressive, defensive-minded midfielder has been superb in the center of the pitch, busily knitting together sharp passes to help power The Peacock’s into ninth position. His nearly endless motor provides the high-octane energy that manager Jesse March hopes will set the tone through a stretch of tough matches that include Man United, Aston Villa and first-place Arsenal.
Playing alongside his comrade Adams, the 21-year-old New Jersey native earned himself a five-year £24.7 million contract this year after impressing during his short tenure with Red Bull Salzburg. He made his Premier League debut Aug. 6 in Leeds’ season-opening 2-1 home win over Wolverhampton, and he netted his first Premier League goal in Leeds’ 3-0 rout of rival Chelsea, giving Leeds its first victory over The Blues in 20 years.
Prior to joining Arsenal, the 28-year-old goalkeeper played an integral role on the New England Revolution. Under coach Bruce Arena, he was named a finalist for the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2020, and in the following year, he took home the award with his 73.2 save percentage as well as the 2021 MLS All-Star Game MVP award. Now, as he looks to make a name for himself in the Premier League, Turner looks to improve from his debut that saw The Gunners defeat Zurich in a Europa game. Though he seemed a bit shaky at the start, Turner found his sea legs and surrendered just one goal that came from a penalty kick.
The 25-year-old fullback was born in Milton Keynes, England and worked through the ranks of Everton's academy, but he reps the U.S. Men's National Team on the international stage by virtue of his father having been raised in White Plains, New York (though he was born in England as well) and gaining American citizenship. The Fulham defender, known by his nickname "Jedi" (he grew up a massive Star Wars fan), uses his speed, willingness to run, and maybe mystical powers, to create threats out wide for both the U.S. and the Cottagers.
The 22-year-old Crystal Palace center back has authored an impressive rise into top-flight football. Born in Alabama, Richards was actually cut from a trial with MLS club FC Dallas' academy in 2016 before going on to rejoin the academy the following year before signing a pro contract with Dallas in 2018. After impressing German giants Bayern Munich at a trial camp later that year, they offered to take him on loan. Playing primarily in Bayern's youth system, things went well enough that Bayern made the move permanent in 2019, inking Richards to a professional deal. After spending last season on loan with the Bundesliga club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Richards agreed to a $12M transfer to Crystal Palace, with whom he signed a five-year deal in July.
As the first American to play in the English Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday, John Harkes may still own the title as the most well-regarded American to ever play in the Premier League, yet this current crop seeks to change that. Though such a feat is a Herculean lift for any player, Pulisic still seems to be the best bet. As the only other American besides Clint Dempsey to ever score a hat-trick in the Premier League, it’s only fitting that “Captain America” get a shot to take up the mantle.
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