FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Since the end of the 2010 season, the New England Revolution technical staff has racked up tens of thousands of frequent flyer miles solely for recruiting purposes. Not all of the players who have been brought on board, however, are foreign born.
Earlier in the season, the Revs welcomed home Benny Feilhaber, who prior to this season had played for AGF Aarhus of the Danish league. The most recent American to follow suit and return to the States is midfielder Ryan Guy, who arrived in June from St. Patrick’s Athletic in Ireland.
Guy had a successful four-year career at the University of San Diego, which landed him with FC Dallas as the 22nd overall pick of the 2007 MLS SuperDraft. He declined the offer made by the MLS club, however, and decided to instead pursue a playing career in Europe.
“That fact mixed with the fact that I always had the dream of playing abroad kind of caused me to make the decision -- to at least take a chance over there,” said Guy. “I basically packed my bags, bought a ticket and flew over to Europe.”
Guy gave himself two weeks.
By networking in England, he was able to trial with Crystal Palace immediately upon arrival. In a matter of days, he had impressed the technical staff; however, things with this first club did not pan out the way Guy had hoped.
“[The trial] went pretty well,” said Guy. “But unfortunately, because I only have American citizenship, I couldn’t play there because of work permit laws and issues.”
Luckily for Guy, not all hope was lost after the initial trial. From that trial, he found an agent who wanted to work with him, and whose next closest connection was in Ireland. With his self-imposed deadline approaching, Guy flew to Dublin, had a weeklong trial with St. Patrick’s, and was offered a professional contract.
The Carlsbad, Calif., native found himself thousands of miles from home trying to make a name for himself in the Football League of Ireland Premier Division. Not only did he have to assimilate into a group of new faces, but he had to do it as the only American. Guy described the initial reception by his teammates and fans as difficult.
“Everyone sees you as ‘the American’ or ‘the Yank,’” Guy recalled. “They gave me a hard time when I first got there, but after a while, once I started playing and scored a few goals, they really seemed to take to me.”
Guy recorded 25 goals in 139 appearances during his four-year stint with St. Patrick’s. The success on the field translated to Guy gaining trust from the fans, and the fact that he was American was beginning to work in his favor.
“I started getting people solely because I was American, because I was a little bit different,” said Guy. “It was really nice to see that I could at least be a tiny ambassador for both the country and the sport.”
As time went on, Guy began to feel more a part of the football culture in Ireland, and immersed himself so much so that he can put on an Irish accent if asked.
Coming into a new team, let alone a new country, isn’t easy for any player, regardless of nationality. Guy believes the connection that St. Patrick’s Athletic’s fans had with the players really helped him adjust to his new home abroad.
“The fans of local clubs [in Ireland] don’t know any of the players [on a personal level], but will still feel like they are a part of your family,” said Guy. “If they see you on the street or they see you out, it’s like, ‘Oh, hey Ryan. How’s it going?’ and I have no idea who that person is but they seem to know everything about the team.
“If you play for their club, you’re theirs,” Guy added. “You’re a part of their culture; you’re a part of their everyday lives.”
With the success he was experiencing abroad, Guy still checked up on MLS, the league that had offered him his first professional contract, from time to time. He remembers watching the MLS All-Star games and a few regular-season games on TV in Ireland.
Guy was impressed with the expansion the league had undergone, and witnessed what he called a “marked change” in various aspects of MLS.
“Even a couple of years ago, I saw that the attendances were way up,” said Guy. “I also saw a marked increase in technical level and European players coming over here, instead of the opposite. I saw the league, in general, get better.”
Ready for a challenge yet again, Guy returned to the U.S. at the beginning of 2011, and after playing with NPSL side San Diego Flash and trialing with a couple of MLS teams, signed a contract with the New England Revolution on June 9. Since then, he has been pleased with his decision.
“The people around the club have been great – from finding a place to live to making my wife and little boy feel welcome,” said Guy. “The team’s great. I’ve seen a lot of teams that I’ve been on having difficult times in their seasons. The morale tends to be terrible when that happens, but here it’s relatively positive.”
Guy made his debut with the Revolution on June 18 against the Chicago Fire, when he came on as a substitute in the 71st minute. The natural midfielder also recently filled in on the defensive line late in the game against Sporting Kansas City on July 30.
While he has seen limited time on the first team in the eight weeks he’s been with the Revs, Guy is thankful for the opportunities the Reserve Division have provided him.
“Even with the reserve team, the level is still really high,” Guy said. “I think every one of the reserves could really fight for a spot on the first team.”
Guy made his bid for first-team minutes after scoring the game-winner in the 86th minute against a solid Toronto FC reserve squad on June 21. The reserves are 2-0-0 since Guy joined the team.
“It’s always nice to have a reserve team that can bolster the morale for the first team,” he said.
The reserve team is essential to the success that the first team enjoys by lighting the competitive fire that drives players to play well. Similarly, Guy believes that the fans play a role in how the team performs.
“[St. Patrick’s] had a tight-knit club-community feeling,” he said. “Already I’ve seen with the Revolution, there are similar type fans.”
Guy believes that the diverse population in the United States is the driving force behind the growing popularity of the sport.
“I think the great part about America is just how many people come from European backgrounds, from other places in the world,” Guy said. “Their families convey that feeling [about soccer] and convey those cultures. Revs’ fans do come off as similar as the way they do in Europe, which is great.”