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From the Pitch – Coming to America

By WILSON KNEESHAW, Sacramento Republic FC, 05/09/18, 5:00PM EDT


Republic FC's English striker shares how his spontaneous move to Sacramento has exceeded expectations

Football in England is a massive part of the culture, nearly everywhere you go there is football being advertised or on TV, you can’t escape it.

When I think about it, I started playing football because of Thierry Henry. I remember watching a match on TV between Arsenal and Blackburn. From the moment I saw Henry, I knew I wanted to be a professional soccer player.

I started playing at the age of four and joined a team at the age of seven. The first time the thought of going pro seemed like it could become a reality was when I was recruited by Middlesbrough FC at the age of 12.

I played in the Middlesbrough academy until I was 16, and at 17 I signed my first professional contract with the club.

The moment I signed my first professional contract was amazing. It was a dream come true for me and it meant a lot to me to be able to progress through the academy to the professional level. It made all the hard work that I put in all worthwhile.

At 19, I left Middlesbrough with a little over eight months left on my contract and moved to Romania, where I played for ACS Poli Timisoara in the first division. Moving from England to Romania was a massive cultural change for me. It was definitely a shock to see and experience, as I had never been to Eastern Europe. I thought it would be like most other European countries, but the social differences were massive.

The football in Romania was great, but the social and cultural changes were tough to adjust to. I had to learn Romanian to communicate because hardly anyone spoke English.

Living there at 19 helped me grow up, as it was the first time I had lived away from my parents and family. I had to fend for myself and also learn a new culture. It was tough at times but i wouldn't change it because it has helped make me the man, and the soccer player, I am today. I learned a lot about myself and life in general, so it was definitely a positive experience.

I stayed there for a little over a year. After that, I spent three months in Sweden. Those three months were another great experience for me, although only short-lived, I loved it, and I fell in love with soccer all over again whilst I was there.

I spent four months back in England before coming stateside, but first, a little background.

"I had to fend for myself and also learn a new culture. It was tough at times but i wouldn't change it because it has helped make me the man, and the soccer player, I am today."

Before I came to America to play soccer, I knew a lot about the MLS, mainly through playing video games like FIFA and Football Manager, but also the TV coverage in England was slowly increasing as the years progressed.

A lot people in England viewed America as a place and league where older players will go to finish their career as the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and David Beckham had done. We have that opinion because it is what we see in England, we see the older players coming to America to finish their career, however, that has been proven wrong in the few years that I have been here, especially with the rise of young players making the move from America to Europe.

When you consider the recent success of players like Jack Harrison and Matt Miazga, and the youthfulness of players across the leagues here, I think that professional soccer in America is growing in talent and it is becoming a more attractive destination that can entice the best footballers from around the world to come and play here.

Part of that development is the fact that soccer here in America is growing in popularity day-by-day.

In general, I think the USL is playing a major part in the growth of soccer in the U.S. It is showing the depth of talent here and that soccer can bring in people from all over the world.

It is proving that the U.S. can have multiple leagues full of great quality players, and I think that the emergence of the USL is making the MLS better as well - so it’s cool to be a part of that.

When the time came for me, my move to America was completely spur of the moment.

I got a call from my agent on a Wednesday, and by that Sunday I was on a plane out here to Sacramento. I have been in America now for a little over a year and a half now and this is my second full season with Sacramento Republic FC.

I didn't know much about the USL at the time, apart from that it was the second tier in America. As I researched a little more, I realised that it was a developing league with some really exciting organisations and franchises.

When I first came to Sacramento obviously the first thing I noticed was the weather. I was used to cloudy skies, highs of 75 degrees and maybe rain - and that’s in the summer.

I came to California and didn't see a cloud for the whole time I was here.

Coming from England over to California the weather and the time difference were definitely the biggest changes between the two countries, both of which you can expect and are quite self-explanatory.

The second thing I noticed was the amazing fan base in Sacramento. I have come to find that the interaction with the fans is much more important here than it is in England. The amount of fan appearances, and the connection that the clubs breed with the fans is amazing and I think that foundation is definitely a strength of the league, and especially of Sac Republic FC. It’s fantastic to be a part of that connection.

However with regards to soccer, the only difference I noticed initially is that it is, in fact, called soccer and not football. I think that the style of play here is very similar to European football, though I do think there is more focus on fitness and producing athletes here whereas it is more positional in England and Europe.

"The amount of fan appearances and the connection that the clubs breed with the fans is amazing and I think that foundation is definitely a strength of the league, and especially of Sac Republic FC."

As I have been here longer and experienced life and soccer here, I have come to realise that there are bigger differences than I first thought though.

The travel to road fixtures is a massive change for me. I always thought that bus journeys of two or three hours were hard, but when you have to travel for five or six hours on planes and you have two-hour time differences, it’s much more difficult than I first expected. However, that has been a great experience. I'm getting to travel around America and see as much of the world as possible, it’s fantastic and definitely one of the parts of soccer in America that I love.

I have been to many places all over Europe to play soccer before I came here and all of them have served a purpose, in my life, and in my soccer career. Now that I am in the U.S., I am still learning things every day about myself, the world - and about soccer - so I am excited about what the future holds.


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