By Jamie Dawe
Over the past year, three legends of English football by the names of Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have decided to start to wind down their careers in California and New York respectively. Fellow Premier League stalwarts of old, such as Liam Ridgewell and Shaun Wright-Phillips have also made their moves to MLS in recent time. Most Premier League fans will be fully aware of these well-known and well publicised moves to the States, but many other Englishman have sailed across the Atlantic completely unnoticed. It’s about time that some of these players get the recognition they deserve. These players all have their own interesting stories to tell – one played for a national team that they were ineligible for, one broke the MLS record for the most goals in a season and one even won the FA Youth Cup in 2013!
So read on to find out some of the other English names you should be looking out for in 2016 and beyond…
Norwich’s Neymar – Dom Dwyer
Current Club: Sporting Kansas City
Joined MLS: 2012
A youth career with Norwich City ended when he was told he would never physically recover enough from his third foot break to play professional football. He was subsequently spotted by US college scouts and given a full scholarship at Tyler Junior College in Texas. He moved to the University of South Florida in 2011 and was picked at No. 16 in the 2012 SuperDraft by SKC – where he has been ever since. A total of 61 goals in 103 career games – including 36 in MLS for SKC – shows his incredible striking ability. At 5ft 9ins he relies on power and speed to blast past his opponents rather than being a traditional No. 9. He created a formidable partnership with former Liverpool player Krisztian Nemeth last season but will need to lead the attack more independently in 2016 – something he should be capable of doing effectively.
The Former U21 Star – Jordan Stewart
Current Club: San Jose Earthquakes
Joined MLS: 2013
The 34-year-old left-back has been in California ever since he left Coventry City in 2013. He has led a successful career, playing in the Premier League for Watford and Leicester as well as recording Championship and League 1 appearances with Bristol Rovers, Derby County, Sheffield United and Notts County. He also enjoyed a lone season at Greek Superleague side Skoda Xanthi. During his six seasons in the first team at Leicester, he achieved an appearance with the England U21 squad as well as four with the U18 group. He will be hoping for another solid campaign in San Jose this year.
The Other Brother – Bradley Wright-Phillips
Current Club: New York Red Bulls
Joined MLS: 2013
Bradley Wright-Phillips joined MLS a full two years before his older brother Shaun. In his career leading up to the move stateside he played for Manchester City, Southampton, Charlton, Brentford and the side that I have devoted my life to, Plymouth Argyle. A grand total of 131 career goals with 51 for the Red Bulls (an MLS record-setting 27 goals in a single season included in that) prove that BWP is a true goalscorer and he has thrived since joining the league in 2013.
The Non-League Struggler – Luke Mulholland
Current Club: Real Salt Lake
Joined MLS: 2014
Mullholland started his career with non-league side Lancaster City, who were on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. He managed to escape to college soccer in 2007 and made his professional debut in 2010 for the Wilmington Hammerheads in the USL. After a failed trial with New England Revolution in 2011, it took Mulholland three more years to fulfill his ambition of playing in MLS when he signed for RSL in 2014. He has become a key part of the team since and will hope to be an important player in 2016.
The Sunshine State Boys – Luke Boden, Seb Hines and Harrison Heath
Current Club: Orlando City SC
Joined MLS: 2015
All three of these players were part of Orlando City’s inaugural season last term, however, they all took significantly different paths to reach the club. Luke Boden joined Orlando in 2011 when they were a USL side, after being released from his boyhood club Sheffield Wednesday. Since then, he has been an integral part of the OCSC set up and has played 112 games for the team in the two different divisions. Seb Hines moved to MLS from Middlesbrough, initially on loan a year ago, but made the deal permanent when his contract at the Riverside expired in July. Harrison Heath is the 19-year-old son of Lions boss Adrian Heath and was part of the FA Youth Cup winning Norwich City side in 2013, before moving to the US to link up with his father. Both Boden and Heath have US Green Cards – meaning they are seen as domestic players on MLS rosters.
The Accidental Jamaican – Tyrone Mears
Current Club: Seattle Sounders
Joined MLS: 2015
At the peak of his career, former Bolton, Derby, Burnley and Marseille player Tyrone Mears was rumoured to be on the brink of an England call-up. However, an appearance for the Jamaican national side in 2009 meant he was committed to play for Jamaica until the end of time (except he was never eligible to play for Jamaica as he thought his estranged father was Jamaican, even though he turned out to be from Sierra Leone). Fast forward to 2016 and Mears is entering his second season with the Sounders as their starting right-back after coming off of a 28-appearance debut campaign last year. He will hope to help Seattle to success this year and beyond.
The New SuperDraft Signings – Jack Harrison, Ben Polk & Paul Clowes
Current Clubs: NYCFC, Portland Timbers and DC United
Joined MLS: 2016
All three of these players were picked within the first two rounds of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft – at No. 1, 20 and 32 respectively. Harrison (pictured at top of article) spent his youth career with the Manchester United academy, whereas Clowes spent his youth career on the blue side of the city. Ben Polk has a British mother and lived in the UK between the ages of 10-19, training with Oxford United’s youth sides and playing for Banbury United in the seventh tier of English football at age 17. Now all three will hope to make a splash in MLS as they start their professional careers.
The Portuguese Shot-Stopper – Matt Jones
Current Club: Philadelphia Union
Joined MLS: 2016
Stoke-on-Trent-born Matt Jones is only on loan to the Union from Portuguese side Belenenses, but he is British through and through. His youth career consisted of appearances for the youth sides of Port Vale and West Bromwich Albion, which lasted until he decided to play college soccer for Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. He spent one season in the fourth tier of US Soccer, after which he moved to Portugal to play for Second Division side Santa Clara. Since then, he has ventured around Portugal, playing for Madeira, Belenenses and Tondela as well as recording 29 league appearances for Santa Clara. At 6ft 3ins and at age 29, he has the command and experience of a true leader in goal and will hope for an opportunity to prove his worth in Philadelphia this year.
The Liverpudlian Lionel Messi – Rob Vincent
Current Club: DC United
Joined MLS: 2016
After spending his formative years with Everton, Crewe Alexandra and Stockport County, Vincent took the opportunity to play college soccer in the States for the University of Charleston. After college, he moved to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the USL and has excelled over the past three seasons, finally being signed by DC United this winter. He plays in an attacking midfielder role and at 5ft 9ins and with 24 goals in 78 games – the only fair comparison is (obviously?!) to Lionel Messi! He is the most recent addition to this exclusive group of English stars plying their trade in the MLS and could make an impression with DC in 2016.
This group of English players make up the national contingent that are performing in the top divison of soccer in the US. However, there are many other English players in the leagues below MLS that are striving to reach the top.
Below is my MLS dream team of English-born players currently in MLS. Is there anyone you think deserved to be in this side that isn’t?