Today marks the end of this series (links to the first three parts can be found at the end of the post) and, as always, I’d appreciate anything you might have to say about it. Also, thank you for putting up with a month of delays between the third and fourth installments in this series!
Following the demise of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the mid-1980s there were, no doubt, still Scottish players plying their trade in the United States, some in the explosion of national and regional indoor leagues that followed the NASL and some in the lower levels of the outdoor game. Unfortunately, especially in the case of the latter, the records are spotty at best and even then, they only exist “off-line.” Certainly one can make surmises based on surnames from rosters, but with no actual nationalities given there is no way to arrive at anything approaching accuracy. Thus, the decade or so between the end of the NASL and the beginning of Major League Soccer (MLS) will likely remain a mystery where our topic is concerned. The arrival of MLS, however, took place just as the internet was taking off as a useful tool and that, combined with the American obsession with sports-related statistics means that there is an abundance of information available to the writer since the mid-1990s.
Unfortunately, that abundance of information sheds relatively little light on the role of Scottish players in MLS- at least during the first half of the league’s existence- because there weren’t many of them around. Among the reasons for this was that in its early years Major League Soccer was an unknown quantity, and one that did not pay particularly well relative to the leagues where Scottish players played- those in Scotland and England. MLS was not, as it is now, a way to begin, rebuild, or extend a career, it was a hinterland. In most cases MLS was a place that the Scottish player went when all of his domestic options were exhausted and given the proliferation of clubs in Scotland, those options were rarely exhausted. Still, there were Scottish players in MLS from the very beginning, and some good ones at that. The first Scottish player to join MLS was Scotland international striker Maurice “Mo” Johnston who was an “MLS Original.” Johnston was at the tail end of his career (he was 33 in 1996), but it was a career that saw him play in the top divisions in England, France, and Scotland (for both sides of the Old Firm among others) and score 14 times in 38 appearances for Scotland. Johnston remained a very productive player over six seasons with Kansas City, including winning the 2000 MLS Cup. Johnston would go on to hold coaching and administrative positions with several clubs (more on that below) through the 2010 season.
Johnston was followed a year later by Scottish international defender Richard Gough. Though he did not last as long in MLS- 36 league matches over two seasons compared to 149 for Johnston over six seasons- Gough’s time in MLS was important because it showed that the young league had “quality.” Gough went straight from a long career in the SPL with Rangers and into the Kansas City line-up along with Johnston. Following the 1997 MLS season he returned to Scotland and the Rangers’ first team. In 1998 he returned to MLS play for San Jose. Following his season with the Clash he moved to Nottingham Forest and Everton (where he played well enough to be club captain) of the Premier League. Clearly, bouncing between the three leagues did not have a detrimental effect on his game, even at a relatively advanced age. Had it not been for disputes with Scotland managers Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown it is likely that Gough would also have been the first active Scottish international to play in MLS (Kenny Miller was the first). In any case, he played for his country 61 times and is a member national team’s “Roll of Honour” for having 50+ caps. Gough has since settled in San Diego.
Strangely, despite the stature of these two players and their success in MLS, there would be only two other Scottish players to suit up for MLS franchises between 1996 and 2006. Jamie Clark, son of Aberdeen legend Bobby Clark, played sparingly for San Jose from 1999-2001, and former Scotland and Chelsea striker John Spencer played, and played well, for Colorado from 2001-2004. Despite Spencer’s relatively high profile success in Colorado, it wouldn’t be until 2006 that the first sizable influx of Scottish players would come into Major League Soccer. Since that time the number of Scottish players in MLS has increased incrementally each year to the point that of the 16 Scottish players to have played in the league, seven are still active.
2006 saw the arrival Peter Canero (Kilmarnock, Leicester City, & Dundee United) who, unfortunately, lasted only nine matches with the Red Bulls before having to retire due to injury at the tender age of 25. Canero was followed by Paul “Son of Kenny” Dalglish, who was winding down a journeyman career when he join the Houston Dynamo in 2007 and Adam Moffat (formerly of Ross County F.C.!), who joined the league the same year and has since become a regular, first with the Crew and now with Houston. 2008 marked the arrival of three Scottish players: Dr.Kenny Deuchar, who balanced is medical responsibilities with his goal scoring duties at Real Salt Lake for a season before resuming both careers in Scotland, Tam McManus (one season in Colorado before returning to the U.K., he’s now with the Rochester Rhinos), and Kevin Souter, who play sporadically in Kansas City for two seasons before moving on to collegiate coaching in Canada. 2009 brought former Celtic and Aberdeen midfielder Jamie Smith to Colorado where, once he got past a few injuries, he has firmly established himself in the first team.
There was another, brief hiatus, in the signing of Scottish players following Smith’s arrival, but that all changed in 2012 when no less than five Scottish players were signed and who, as a group, probably have the most quality among them since the arrival of Johnston, Gough, and Spencer. New Vancouver manager Martin Rennie (himself a native of Thurso- even further north than Dingwall!) wasted no time in bringing in both Kenny Miller (see above) and Barry Robson (another current Scottish international). Rennie has made a habit of “mining” Scotland for playing and managerial talent since his days with the Cleveland City Stars where he recruited Adam Moffat, and Carolina RailHawks, where he brought in Greg Shields from Dunfermline Athletic, and Paul Ritchie (Hearts, Dundee United, Manchester City and Scotland), who would go on to become one of Rennie’s assistants in Carolina and now in Vancouver. Rennie’s coaching staffs at Cleveland City and Carolina also included former Aberdeen, Ross County, and Scotland defender Brian Irvine.
2012 also saw the arrival of two Scottish players in Portland. Steven Smith, who, like many foreign players is trying to resurrect an injury-plagued career that once had him at Rangers and on track to play for Scotland before things went wrong and he found himself at League One Preston North End F.C. before making the move to the Timbers, and Kris Boyd, who has taken a while to get settled, but is now showing the kind of goal scoring form that saw him score 101 times in 143 league matches for Rangers and made him the top overall goal scorer in SPL history with 164. Finally, the expansion Montreal Impact got in on the act when they signed Callum Mallace, a native of Torphichen, who played his high school and college soccer in Minnesota.
And that’s the end…almost.
To this point this series has specifically been about Scottish players in the United States, but as has been the case for many decades and in many leagues, perhaps the biggest impact of Scottish players in the United States- and particularly in Major League Soccer- has been, in fact, as managers. With the exception of Martin Rennie, whose playing career was cut short by injury before he was able to rise above junior football in Scotland, all of the Scottish managers in MLS have also been former MLS players- Johnston, Spencer, and even recent New England Revolution manager Steve Nicol suited up for two matches during his first, interim, spell as the Revs manager in 1999. Oh, and there’s one more Scotsman who was an MLS player (Rapids, Clash, & Mutiny), earned over 50 international caps (for the U.S.!), and managed his club to back to back MLS Cup wins: Glasgow-born Dominic Kinnear of the Houston Dynamo.