Life in the states is a welcome challenge
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