British exports in MLS

by James Kilpatrick

As the 2013 MLS season reaches its climax with the playoffs less than a month away, it is fitting to take a look at what some of the Brits have done in MLS this season and take a look at just how well those who have crossed the pond have performed.

EarnsharRobert Earnshaw – Toronto FC

After spending 14 years in British football, you can’t blame Earnshaw for wanting to explore other options outside of Britain, especially when he seemed to have slipped down the pecking order at Cardiff City. You also can’t blame Earnshaw for wanting to live and play somewhere a bit safer than Tel-Aviv where he spent four months on loan from September 2012 to January 2013  right in the heart of the Israel-Gaza conflict where he went through the traumatic experience of facing rockets being fired into the city.  The Zambian-born Welshman (who has 59 caps to his name) started off his time at Toronto extremely well with five goals in his first six appearances. His goal tally overall this season is 7 which even now places him as Toronto FC’s top scorer after a season which can only be described as dreadful for Ryan Nelsen’s men. A number of minor injuries have made it difficult for Earnshaw to retain his starting place and will hope to be more consistent in 2014.

Game of the season (so far)

Scoring both goals to win 2-1 against Sporting Kansas City on match day 2. It’s a shame Toronto never really improved from there…

Kenny Miller

Kenny Miller – Vancouver Whitecaps

Miller has been constantly linked with a return to Rangers throughout the year, but that hasn’t stopped Kenny Miller from being a solid performer for Vancouver Whitecaps who are part of a dramatic race with San Jose to snatch the fifth and final playoff place in the Western Conference. Miller joined the Whitecaps midway through the 2012 season and was only able to score twice with a lack of a pre-season possibly hindering his progress. 2013 has seen a gradual improvement with eight goals in 19 starts. Miller’s goal in his final game for Scotland vs. England was evidence of a proven striker whose ability to play as a lone striker considering his lack of real height and physicality is remarkable. The ex-Celtic and Rangers front man has been rotated in recent weeks (as is everyone under head coach Martin Rennie) but being part of a trio consisting of young, promising Canadian Russell Teibert and potential 2013 MVP winner Camillo has shown flashes of brilliance. With Miller retiring from the national team, it wouldn’t be surprising if more goals are seen from the diminutive striker.

Game of the Season (so far)

A fabulous performance against New England with two goals in a 4-3 win. One of his goals was just outrageous.

Giles BarnesGiles Barnes – Houston Dynamo

Once touted to be one of England’s brightest young stars, Giles Barnes joined Houston with impressive credentials at the age of just 25, helping two Championship clubs gain promotion to English Premier League (Derby County 2007; West Bromwich Albion 2010) while also being awarded Derby County Young Player of the Year in 2007. The physically imposing Attacking midfielder, who is perfectly competent as a striker, had a relatively underwhelming season at Doncaster Rovers in 2012/13 season – making 33 appearances with only one goal and three assists. Barnes was looking for a fresh start. Houston looks to have been the perfect transition as he has cemented himself a starting spot (30 starts) even with the likes of flamboyant Honduran DP Alexander Lopez waiting in the wings and has been consistently productive, netting eight times with four assists.

Game of the season (so far)

A MOTM performance in a 3-1 win against Seattle Sounders, Barnes scored twice with his second being an absolute thunderbolt.

SOC Whitecaps FCNigel Reo-Coker – Vancouver Whitecaps

One of the other British players in the Vancouver setup, Reo-Coker has added a layer of much needed grit into a side who at times have lacked  real aggression in centre midfield prior to his arrival. Reo-Coker boasts Premier League experience with stints at Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and West Ham. It is perhaps no surprise then that Reo-Coker was appointed captain in just his first year in MLS. The box-to-box midfielder has had to play a variety of positions this season, occupying right back on a number of occasions (including a heavy 90 minute defensive shift against Montreal in the Canadian Championship) and has been a very positive influence with his human qualities shining through. His guidance of Russell Teibert looks to be paying dividends, motivational team talks complemented by his performances on the pitch with his energetic bursts forward from center midfield and down the right flank has caused great problems for MLS defenses. Vancouver needed a Reo-Coker and without him, it is unlikely Vancouver would even be competing for a playoff place.

Game of the season (so far)

Two assists in a 2-0 win against San Jose in mid-August with one goal that epitomises Reo-Coker…

Jonny SteeleJonny Steele – New York Red Bulls

Probably the best British export in MLS this season. Hardly anybody had even heard of the man from Larne, Northern Ireland, the town where he was attacked outside a store in ‘The Troubles’ when he was a teenager. Steele had to work his way up and after a youth career at Wolves, he moved stateside in an attempt to keep his soccer playing dreams alive, plying his trade in the MISL, USL and NASL before earning his spot in MLS. 2013 has really been a breakout season after 2012 at Real Salt Lake where appearances were hard to come by (11 starts; two goals, two assists).  This season, Steele has started 30 games with four goals and six assists. His contribution to build up play has helped greatly in alleviating pressure from main creative outlet Thierry Henry and has managed to fight off competition to retain his place. His performances have been consistently good and is no wonder Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is keeping a very close eye on the 27-year-old. New York has already qualified for the playoffs, and Jonny Steele will undoubtedly play a big role in any success his team has.

Game of the Season (so far)

A goal and assist against Houston Dynamo in which his powerful strike secured a crucial three points against their Eastern Conference rivals.

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