RJ DEMELLO - Thursday, May 2, 2013
On a team that features big names such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, Jonny Steele flies a bit under the radar at Red Bull Arena for the New York Red Bulls.
It is the 27 year olds first season with the Red Bulls and only second in the league, yet each week sees him settle into the starting lineup even further.
Steele appeared 28 times last year for Real Salt Lake, yet had his optioned declined by the club after the season.
A left midfielder by trade, Steele felt he was underutilized in Utah, "I learned a lot in Salt Lake last year, but I didn't really get to cross the ball," he told Full Volley.
With New York, he feels the situation is much different, "Right now I've been getting a lot of chances to put the ball in the box- I know if I get time and space I'm going to deliver a decent ball."
Part of the reason he has the opportunity to pick his head up and put in a good ball is the fact he has Cahill and Henry to deliver to, as he points out, "I'm playing with good players that are creating space for me."
While he feels comfortable in his role, and that his game is improving, the team went through some early season struggles. When talking about the team's problems, he seems upbeat that the problem is an easy fix, "we've been playing good football-I just don't think we took our chances."
Many started talking about Red Bulls Head Coach Mike Petke, and perhaps that he wasn't quite ready to take over the reins at the club. Steele thinks that is not the case, "He's been good you know and he's been positive." The Northern Ireland man continued, "Sometimes he'll take the rap for things, but at the end of the day we are on the field and we know it's us-it's our fault we weren't getting the results."
Perhaps Steele's humble attitude comes from his soccer background, one quite like no other. The midfielder came to America when he was 18, bouncing around lower division clubs and even a few indoor soccer teams.
He witnessed firsthand the growth of soccer in this country and how much MLS itself has grown. Steele told Full Volley it's grown, "dramatically for the last eight years I've been here, I've seen how the MLS has grown and grown and grown, the more it grew the more I wanted to be a part of it."
Through his hard work he now finds himself in the league he spent years watching and aspiring to make it to one day. Now he even sees growth in the league overseas and back home in Northern Ireland, "When I first came people didn't talk teams, they didn't know players- now at the end of the day all my friends (back home) know who's on the teams, who's in the league."
Now with finding success in this growing league, Steele faces another potential opportunity, playing international soccer for Northern Ireland. There have been recent reports that his steady and improved play for New York hasn't gone unnoticed by his home countries coaching staff.
Steele isn't getting ahead of himself though, remaining focused on the task at hand, "At the end of the day my job is to keep playing football." Though he admits playing for his country would be special, "It's a blessing and it's something that every kid dreams of."
The former Puerto Rico Islander will only strengthen his case for a call up if he continues performing as he has of late.
Against New England he scored a goal and set one up, even after the news that his father had suffered a stroke back home. Steele almost didn't even play in that game, "I was going to go home when everything happened, my dad got on the phone straight away and was like the last thing I want for you is to be over here." He went on to say, "I want you to continue what you are doing- and do me proud."
After his performance for his father, who is improving every day according to the player, Steele continued with a strong outing against Toronto this week. It was him who played through Roy Miller, who then crossed to Tim Cahill for New York's opener.
With Steele settling into the team, it seems the team is hitting its stride as well. That doesn't mean it is good enough just yet from Steele, "I just think gradually I'm going to get better the more I play." For Petke and Northern Ireland Head Coach Michael O'Neill that is a sound they sure love to hear.