Dubliner Steven Beattie is one of the growing list of Irish players who’ve come through the US Colleges’ system. Currently starring for Icelandic side Tindastóll, famous for recently spoofing Chelsea paint-drenched kit launch, Steven tells Póg Mo Goal of his experiences Stateside and the opportunities open to aspiring footballers from these shores.
Tell us a bit of your footballing background in Ireland and how you moved to the States?
I played my youth football with Skerries Town before moving to Shelbourne. We went undefeated for two years from U-12-U13. Anthony Stokes, Simon Madden, Mark Byrne, and Robert Bailey all played on that team. I played with Crumlin for a year then Home Farm before going back to Shels U21’s. Pat Fenlon was manager of the first team at the time (2007) and I was called up to train them. I was then offered a contract with Glenavon up North. I was in Colaiste Ide at the time and turned down the contract opting instead for a move to America and a scholarship to Northern Kentucky University.
How did your move to Toronto come about?
I was lucky enough to win national Player of the Year twice as well as a National Championship. I was drafted out of college into the MLS by Toronto FC. When I arrived there, they had all new management and the place was in a bit of a transition period. It was a shame because LA Galaxy, New England Revolution, and Sporting Kansas city were all really interested and Toronto sort of took me for the sake of it. They hadn’t spoken to me or my agent. They really deprived me of signing in MLS that year. By the time I left Toronto all MLS squad lists were already submitted. My agent got me down to the Puerto Rico Islanders in the North American soccer league. Ex Northern Irish International Colin Clarke was the manager down there.
Disaster then struck. I signed full pro forms on the Monday then three days later in my first friendly I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament ruling me out for the season before it even started. I made a full recovery and signed for UMF Tindastoll in Iceland in the summer transfer window. I scored four goals and had six assists in 10 games. I have started this season well scoring two goals and two assists in the first three games.
What is your opinion on the standard of football in America?
I think the standard in the MLS is decent and getting better all the time. The only thing that I don’t agree with is the foreign player rule. Each MLS side is restricted in the number of foreigners they can have on their roster ( total of 152 international slots are divided among the 19 clubs. Each club began with eight international slots, which are tradable). That makes it very tough to get signed in the league.
What’s your opinion on the Beckham-factor, and since his departure, Robbie Keane, who is now one of the highest profile players in America?
Obviously Beckham was a major part in the growth of MLS and I believe it will keep growing. It’s great to see the Irish lads doing well in there now and obviously Robbie Keane is still banging in the goals for LA.
What are possible lessons the League of Ireland it could learn from MLS?
The thing the League of Ireland could learn from the MLS is the way home-grown players are treated by the clubs. MLS teams can sign home town players that have come through the academy ranks and it does not count against the teams salary cap. This way young players stay at the same club from an early age and develop into top players. The MLS will never be as big as American Football, baseball, or basketball but there is definitely a huge soccer market over there. I would love to get back over at some stage and play in the MLS. I loved my time in the States.
Tell us about the Tindastóll Chelsea paint tribute.
The video the lads made here making fun of the Chelsea kit was a bit of dressing room banter but ended up going viral. We have a great bunch of lads here with really good team spirit. I still don’t know much Icelandic but they all speak really good English and the manager gives all team talks in English so its not bad.
More and more young Irish players are availing of soccer scholarships in America. What’s your advice?
I would recommend any Irish kid to go the route I went and get a scholarship in America. It was the best four years of my life and I was able to get a degree in Public Relations. I would have never have had that opportunity at home. A football career is a short one and having a a college education is essential to fall back on especially in our current economic climate. Injuries are part of the game and in a blink of an eye they can happen to anyone. That’s why education is a must. I’m actually looking into business ideas to enable more Irish kids to get scholarships to the States.