After a close season comfortably chaotic enough to remind him of what life might have been had he stayed and played his football back at home, Richie Ryan should make his competitive debut for FC Cincinnati over the weekend with the USL club he signed for last month set to kick their season off in Charleston.
The 33 year-old has been getting to grips with the club’s reworked schedule after defections from the troubled NASL led to a last minute expansion but Ryan is happy to have landed on his feet as his former club Miami found themselves in league related limbo.
“It’s been a crazy five or six months,” says the midfielder from Tipperary who first left for Ireland for Sunderland as a teenager. “Coming towards the end of last season we weren’t really sure what was going to happen with the NASL and then there was a lot more uncertainty during the off season. That was enough for me to look around for another opportunity.”
Officially the league is moving to a winter schedule which will involve an August start but, says Ryan; “The word I’ve heard over here is that they were just trying to buy themselves some time and at my age you can’t afford to take a chance on sitting around. Plus, I only had a year on my contract so I could have been doing nothing until August then let go in December. That wasn’t really an option.”
Ryan was on good money at Miami, enjoyed the experience of playing under manager Alessandro Nesta and very much liked the life there but, he says, his desire to play was the overriding factor in his decision to switch. "I didn't get any pay off," he says. "I just left the contract to move. The way I looked at it was that whether I was in Miami on the money I was on there or I'm in Cincinnati, I'm still going to have to work when I finish up playing football so I might as well play as much as I can at the best level I can until then. Financially, I didn't look into it too much."
The new club is one of the strongest in the USL and has firm ambitions to make the step up to MLS with talks ongoing only this week about a deal to secure a site for a €200 million stadium development. That is likely to all come too late for the Irishman who has arrived at his fourth club since crossing the Atlantic on a two year contract but he is still pleased to have made what he regards as another good move, his third since originally signing for Ottawa at the start of 2014.
"It's probably the best decision I ever made in my career," says the former Sligo and Shamrock Rovers player who first began to cast his eye across the Atlantic after realising that Dundee United were shaping up to show him the door. Following an agent on Twitter eventually led to an offer of the deal at Ottawa after which there was brief stint with Jacksonville then what was, by NASL standards, a big money move to Miami. And now Cincinnati, comfortably the best supported of them all.
“I was always willing to go and travel to play football,” he says. “It didn’t really bother me whether I was in England, Scotland, Belgium, Holland, America . . . wherever I ended up, as long as I was playing football.
"Cincinnati (where he links up with South African coach, once of Limerick, and former Dundee United teammate Paddy Barrett) is a huge club, though. I think last year they averaged 21,000 fans, and there are huge expectations. It's nice to be a part of it."
He hopes to play beyond his current deal and laughs as he suggests that his particular talents lend themselves to longevity: “I’ve never really had pace, so I can’t lose it. My reading of the game and passing are probably the strongest aspects of my game and they’re not really that age related but if I ever realised that I’m not the player I used to be then I’d have to be honest with myself and look to stop.”
At that stage, he hopes, America will offer new opportunities within the game for his family, Scottish wife Nicky, Canadian born daughter Polly and Miami born son Preston (“you can see the security guys in airports wondering how this happened when they see all the passports,” he says). “It will have to be in football,” he observes. “That’s all I know. But the game is growing so fast out here I think there will be possibilities. For the moment, though, I’m just grateful to be still playing.”