When faced with consistent injury issues, clubs will often choose to cut players loose instead of giving the chance to work back to fitness, especially those yet to make an impact at the senior level. Fulham continues to stand by Marlon Fossey, signing him to a contract extension last summer. The pacey 23-year-old fullback recently embarked on a loan to Bolton Wanderers and is receiving regular playing time in League One. After several stops and starts, the former youth international may finally be ready to make an impact in England.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Fossey relocated to the island of Jersey, competing in gymnastics and athletics in addition to soccer. At 11 years old, he was scouted by Fulham while playing in a tournament, moving to the academy at a striker. The teenager was a member of the youth squads that won the prestigious Premier League International Cup and reached the final of the Super Group at the Dallas Cup.
After earning a scholarship to continue at the club, he began appearing with the reserves, playing three matches in Premier League 2. The next season, Fossey made 21 appearances, helping reach the playoffs. “To be honest, I think I’m pretty close [to the first team],” the then-prospect told American Soccer Now in 2016. “I think what I need to work on most is the physical side. We’re technically trained very well at Fulham.”
Over the next few years, Fossey struggled to stay on the field. In 2017/2018, he was out from August through January, and August through April the next season. Long layoffs were followed by immediate insertion into the starting lineup for the reserves, but first-team playing time remained out of reach.
In April of 2018, the club signed him to a two-year contract extension with the option for an additional season. Fulham co-owner Tony Khan praised Fossey’s “personal and professional strength” after “battling back from recent injuries.” The following summer, he “made a name for himself” during preseason matches, displaying technical ability and terrifying opposing defenses with his pace.
Unfortunately, Fossey suffered an injury days before the opener, enduring a long and intense rehabilitation program. After “a couple injuries and surgeries,” he was stuck on the sidelines until February of 2020. His return was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic that saw the cancelation of the remaining Premier League 2 schedule.
In August of 2020, Fossey was sent on loan to League One side Shrewsbury after the club “chased [him] for months.” He made nine total appearances but suffered a knee injury in November. His loan was ended during the winter transfer window. Upon returning to Craven Cottage, the defender resumed playing with the reserve team.
Despite failing make a single senior appearance by the age of 22, Fulham signed him to another two-year contract extension, a show of faith in his abilities and potential. “I’m really appreciative that they have confidence in me and I’m grateful that I’m going to be around people and players for the next two years that I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from,” he told the club’s official website. “I aim to work as hard as I can to better myself as a player. It was difficult because no footballer wants to spend the majority of the season on the sidelines. I learnt a lot from it in terms of how to look after my body better and function better…. Every young player has the aim of playing for the First Team, and I’m going to put myself in the best position to get to that point as soon as possible.”
After an unsuccessful trial with Rotherham United, Fossey made the bench for Fulham’s EFL Cup fixture against Leeds United, but a loss and competition at the fullback position prevented further opportunities. He also hit a new level with his play, registering five assists in 11 reserve matches. His consistent performance and clear dominance represented the metaphorical graduation for players outside of the senior squad, necessitating a half-step up the ladder to face off against a higher level of competition.
Fossey joined League One side Bolton Wanderers on a loan through the end of the season, reportedly turning down an offer from Inter Miami in Major League Soccer. “It’s a step up from [the reserves] and I’m excited for the challenge,” he said. “It’s a higher level and I think the more minutes I can earn myself, the higher my level will get. It’s a great opportunity to test myself and whatever happens I think I’ll learn a lot from it.”
He has hit the ground running in Horwich, starting his first three matches and stepping into a position that has been “problematic” this season. After losses to Hartlepool in the EFL Trophy and Wycombe in the league, Fossey played 90 minutes at right wing in a 2-0 victory over Ipswich. The Trotters are currently at 17th place in the table, five points above the relegation zone. After adjusting to the “quicker tempo, intensity, and physicality,” the next few months are a crucial stretch in the career of a player no longer considered a developing prospect and expected to perform as an experienced professional.
At the international level, Fossey is eligible to represent England and the United States. With the latter nation, he appeared with the U-19 and U-20 squads, winning the Slovakia Cup. The defender helped claim the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship and was named to the tournament’s Best XI after starting all six matches. A late injury forced him to pull out of the ensuing World Cup.
Originally a winger, Fossey was moved to fullback and plays primarily on the right side. He has “huge physical attributes” and is “good on the ball.” Bolton manager Ian Evatt described him as “athletically fantastic” and “lightning fast” while being able to “handle the ball.” In a recent match against Ipswich his hard tackling, accurate passing, field vision, and tenacity were on full display, an impressive and eye-opening performance from someone perhaps destined to compete at a higher level.
“I’m like most fullbacks these days,” he shared after joining Bolton. “I like to have the ball in the attacking area and I like to impact the game defensively as well. I have an intensity and athleticism.”
Fulham has shown a great deal of confidence in Fossey, with the owner citing him as “one to watch.” While still at a nascent stage of his delayed career, the loan to Bolton provides the opportunity to gain playing time and develop. In a few years, perhaps he could live up to past potential and achieve his goal of competing for the USMNT.