LARNE’S Jonny Steele is relishing the prospect of playing in the same team as World Cup winner Thierry Henry after he put pen to paper on a deal with MLS giants New York Red Bulls.
Speaking exclusively to the Larne Times just days after his move to the Big Apple, the 27-year-old said he’s determined to become a regular in the team and also spoke of his burning ambition to represent Northern Ireland at full international level.
The midfielder, who began his career with Wolves, enjoyed a successful year in the MLS with Real Salt Lake last season. One of his many highlights with the Utah club came when he started October’s 2-1 win over an LA Galaxy team which boasted David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donavon in their line-up.
Earlier this month out-of-contract Steele was close to signing for English side Macclesfield Town, before the Red Bulls swooped for his signature while he was at home visiting his family.
“There is a draft process in the MLS but it was my first year in the league so I couldn’t go into the draft,” Steele explained. “No-one really knew that I was a free agent. I was about to sign with Macclesfield when I got a call from the coach at New York Red Bulls saying that he was interested in me.
“They wanted me over on trial and I said I wouldn’t come on trial. I played 34 games last year for Salt Lake, so then we just ended up doing the deal.”
He weighed up his options and the chance to play alongside Henry, former Everton star Tim Cahill and Brazil international Juninho was just too good to turn down.
Steele trained with his new team-mates for the first time in Arizona on Friday (February 23) ahead of a substitute appearance against New England Revolution in a pre-season friendly the following day.
“Training alongside those guys is a bit surreal,” he admitted. “I played against them last year, but it’s different when you are their team-mate. Watching Henry’s touch and the movement of Cahill, it’s easy to see why they played at the top. Henry is different gravy; he’s different class.”
By his own admission, his rise to prominence in the MLS hasn’t all been plain sailing. Years of hard work and dedication in America’s lower leagues are beginning to reap their rewards. But he’s savvy enough to know there’s a lot of graft still to be done.
“It was always my dream to make it across to England. When I got that chance it didn’t work out and I jumped ship and came to America myself. It’s been a grind over here, it’s not easy coming in as a foreigner and it’s not easy to get into the league - especially now that the MLS is growing.
“New York Red Bulls have just built a multi-million dollar stadium; everything is getting bigger and bigger.
“I had the opportunity to come to the MLS a few times before and I didn’t think it was right so I didn’t go. But last year I took the step, did well, and it’s brought about this move and I’m hoping to fight for my place and hopefully stay here for a few years.”
Winning a full international cap remains one of his big dreams and he has his sights set on earning a call-up to Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland side.
“I’m far from home. I’m not in England and I’m not just an hour away on a plane. But do I think I could play at that level? One hundred per cent.
“It’s the manager’s decision at the end of the day and all I can do is keep working and hope the call comes. Obviously it would be a dream come true to represent Northern Ireland at full international level and get that first cap. “Hopefully, one day it will come. I’ll never say no to it.”
New York Red Bulls begin their 2013 MLS campaign today (Sunday, March 3) with a trip to Oregon to take Portland Timbers.