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American Chairs English Football Champions

Americans have a reputation around the globe for not being as knowledgeable about soccer as the rest of the world.

When Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovich took over English Premier League team Chelsea in 2004, very little was known about his allegiance to the southwest London club. But the American man he appointed to be the club's chairman had long been an enthusiastic supporter of the team. New York native Bruce Buck, 59, has been a season ticket holder at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge Stadium since 1990. Now the high-powered lawyer gets to play a big role in leading the team he loves.

"In terms of Chelsea management, I'm probably the only one that is historically a Chelsea supporter."

For the second consecutive year, Buck has brought his team to his home country for a series of exhibition games. On Sunday, the English Premier League champions beat Italian powers AC Milan 1-0 at Gillette Stadium outside Boston, Massachusetts. On Thursday, Chelsea will play Major League Soccer (MLS) champions DC United outside Washington. This Sunday, Chelsea will face Milan again, this time at Giants Stadium outside New York City.

Buck's trip across the Atlantic has given him the chance to assess the state of American soccer. His biggest criticism of MLS is its salary structure, which restricts each team's payroll to approximately $1.8 million dollars. That has prevented teams from signing the higher caliber of players that flock to the big European leagues.

"The salary cap, generally speaking, is a good idea because it saves the owners from each other, if that's the right way of phrasing it. But it does prevent you from getting the best players, and there's got to be some balance between the salary cap and getting the right players."

The salary cap is very much a creation of American sports, and while Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck might not like it, he has brought many other American sports principles to England with him. Chief among them have been methods of promoting a team's brand and image, especially through merchandise.

"Americans, we're very good at promoting. We're very good at the glitz and glamour of sports."

But Buck adds that as important as promoting a team is, results on the field are always more important.

"Football is first. No matter how great your promotional people are, and how beautiful your replica shirts look, you're not going to sell any of them if your team is last in the league."

Buck also gave his opinion on another American who is trying to have an impact on English football, Malcolm Glazer. The owner of the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers has bought a controlling stake in one of Chelsea's biggest rivals, Manchester United. But the purchase has sparked controversy because Glazer and his family are not perceived to have the same passion for the team as its many fans worldwide.

Buck said, however, that the Glazers need to be given a fair amount of time to prove themselves.

"Let's give them a chance. Let's wait and see. They are a very wealthy family. They've been very successful in business, they've been very successful in sports, and I would very well expect that their interests and the interests of the fans of Manchester United will be consistent with each other."

Buck added that he thinks the fans' hostility towards the Glazers has nothing to do with their nationality.

"I don't think the resistance to the Glazers is an anti-American thing. I'm not even sure it's an anti-foreigner thing. But what the fans seem most concerned about is that it's an unknown quantity and they've put a substantial amount of debt on the club."

Buck also defended his boss, who faced similar criticisms when he took over Chelsea last year.

"Roman Abramovich and Chelsea Football Club is not a passing fancy. He is a very dedicated supporter of Chelsea. This past season we had 65 or 66 matches all over Europe and the UK, and if he missed three I'd be surprised -- but he probably missed two."

If things continue to go well on and off the field for Chelsea, the team will have many more fans as dedicated as its American chairman Bruce Buck in the years to come.