Life in the states is a welcome chal­lenge

Rutherglen Reformer - - Sports - Dou­glas Dickie

Football der­bies in Amer­ica are a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to what Sandy Stewart has been used to in the UK.

Clubs like Dundee and Dundee United have sta­di­ums just yards apart, mean­ing play­ers can lit­er­ally walk be­tween the grounds on their way to the match (if they wished).

But try walk­ing to Hous­ton Dy­namo’s near­est ri­vals, and a player will need to pack for a lengthy jour­ney.

The vast dis­tances cov­ered for games is one of the big­gest dif­fer­ences Air­drie leg­end Sandy has no­ticed.

“Our ‘derby’ as they call it, against FC Dal­las, is a two hour jour­ney,” he says.

“And that shows you how big a place it is.

“For most games you’re look­ing at a three or four hour plane jour­ney, even five hours.

“You need to leave two days be­fore and you’ve got time dif­fer­ences as well.

“When you go to LA, it’s two hours be­hind us, so that’s some­thing dif­fer­ent you need to deal with from what hap­pens here.

“You’ve got to fac­tor that into your prepa­ra­tions.”

Sandy opted to swap Bri­tish football for a new chal­lenge in the USA at the end of last year.

Hav­ing man­aged Air­drie, he then be­came the trusted lieu­tenant to Owen Coyle at St John­stone, Burn­ley, Bolton and Wi­gan.

De­spite the dif­fer­ences in cul­ture, Sandy is rel­ish­ing the chance to de­velop his own coach­ing skills as well as pass his meth­ods onto oth­ers.

And he reck­ons oth­ers at the club are re­cep­tive to the ideas he and Owen have brought with them: “With­out ask­ing them, I think all the staff have worked re­ally well to­gether.

“We (Sandy and Owen) have plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence and we have ideas they have taken on board.

“But there’s things we’ve had to learn. Right now, in Hous­ton, it’s 100 de­grees and with that you learn that train­ing can’t have the same in­ten­sity. You’ve got to do ev­ery­thing in in­ter­vals.

“Matches kick-off at 8pm be­cause it’s too warm be­fore then, for play­ers and fans. That’s just some­thing we have got to learn.”

The MLS is seen as an up and com­ing league, with many es­tab­lished stars opt­ing to try their luck to­wards the end of their ca­reers in the States.

Frank Lam­pard, Steven Ger­rard, Kaka and David Villa, among oth­ers, have all com­mit­ted their fu­tures to the league.

At Hous­ton, Sandy is work­ing with DaMar­cus Beasley, who will be fa­mil­iar to Rangers fans, while English­man Giles Barnes was a hot prospect at Derby County and Not­ting­ham For­est a few years ago.

While their star names may not match the glam­our of other clubs, Sandy reck­ons they have plenty of tal­ented play­ers.

“You have a ros­ter of 28 play­ers, and it’s a mix­ture of younger guys, draft picks and sign­ings, and that brings its own chal­lenges.

“Some of the play­ers are just out of col­lege, they’re ob­vi­ously good play­ers but they maybe need to learn to play football the way they will need to if they want to deal with it at the top level, but it’s al­ways en­joy­able. That’s when your coach­ing brain kicks in.

“I’ve been out of the game in Scot­land for a while, so it’s hard to make a com­par­i­son, but I’d say the top MLS teams would be more than ca­pa­ble of hold­ing their own at the top end of the English Cham­pi­onship.

“You find there’s not much be­tween the teams you play apart from maybe one or two who are able to pay a wee bit more, like Toronto or Seat­tle, who have the likes of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey.

“Then at LA Gal­axy, they’ve just signed Steven Ger­rard and al­ready have Rob­bie Keane. That maybe gives those teams a bit of an edge, but all in all, there’s not a lot in it.

“We’ve got the likes of Giles Barnes, who has had an un­be­liev­able sea­son, but we’ve also got some Amer­i­can in­ter­na­tion­als like Brad Davis and Ri­cardo Clark. We also have a few Honduran in­ter­na­tion­als and a Ja­maican in­ter­na­tional. They might not be known in the UK, but they are well known over there.”

Sandy, who cap­tained Air­drie in the 1992 Scot­tish Cup Fi­nal, last week en­joyed some time at home with his fam­ily, who opted to stay in Scot­land when he made the move. His son, Scott, has re­cently signed a one-year con­tract at Air­drie and is also study­ing at univer­sity, so he was re­luc­tant to up­root them at a cru­cial time in their lives.

Now back in the States, he’ll stay there un­til the end of the cam­paign in Novem­ber, and he’ll be hop­ing to have helped guide Hous­ton to a play-off place.

They cur­rently lie sev­enth in the Western Con­fer­ence stand­ings, with the top six get­ting a play-off spot, but such is the tight­ness of the league, they are only six points off the top spot af­ter 14 games of their 34-game reg­u­lar sea­son.

Hous­ton en­joyed a fair de­gree of suc­cess in their early years af­ter be­ing founded in 2005, but have found the go­ing tougher in re­cent years.

While Sandy is part of a team charged with bring­ing the glory days back, the more im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity is en­sur­ing his side are in the mix for as long as pos­si­ble: “Look­ing at the play­offs this sea­son, that would be suc­cess.

“They didn’t get there last year.

“Hous­ton Dy­namo have been very suc­cess­ful in pre­vi­ous years but the cham­pi­onship have ex­panded and that’s made it harder to achieve what they have done.”

“I think, first and fore­most, that’s where our pri­or­ity lies.”

Hous­ton Dy­namo have been very suc­cess­ful in pre­vi­ous years - Sandy Stewart

State­side Sandy Stewart is lov­ing life in Amer­ica

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