The roads taken to Major League Soccer can be long, winding and varied. One path travelled with more regularity in recent times is the one from Scotland to the United States with Johnny Russell arriving at Sporting Kansas City from Dundee United via Derby County and former Rangers, Liverpool and Hearts defender Danny Wilson now turning out for Colorado Rapids.
One man who has made that journey in the last twelve months is Sam Nicholson. A local boy from Edinburgh, Nicholson ascended through the youth ranks at Heart of Midlothian before making a total of 110 professional appearances for his hometown club. It was noteworthy that despite relegation to the Scottish Championship, Nicholson pledged his allegiance to Hearts by signing a three-year contract in June 2014. The loyalty shown by Sam was rewarded with the Scottish Championship title in 2014/15. After a career in Scotland featuring six caps at Scottish U19 and eight at Scottish U21 level, he arrived in Minnesota in July 2017.
During his first half-season in MLS with Minnesota United, Sam made twelve appearances, providing one assist and scoring one goal in the process – a long range cracker of an effort against Houston Dynamo. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth seeking out on the MNUFC.com website.
MLSFootball.com recently spoke to Oliver Shannon, a young British SuperDraft pick at Atlanta United, and now have been very fortunate with the support of Minnesota United’s media relations team to interview Scotland’s Sam Nicholson.
The team’s preseason results have represented an entire season on their own with big wins, losses and a draw too. How do you feel preparations have been for the new season and how do you feel heading into your first full season in MLS?
“Good, really looking forward to it. In terms of preparation, the manager has done enough for us to get ready for a good season ahead. We’re two games in, we got our first away win so it’s a great start for us. We’re all looking forward to it, in terms of on the pitch I feel like as a team we’re all working together and we look a lot more organised than last season. I think we’re going to have a good season ahead of us.”
This is your second season in the MLS after transferring over from Hearts in Scotland in July last year, where you made 110 appearances and won the Scottish Championship in 2014/15. After making 12 appearances since joining the Loons and scoring a fantastic long-range effort in September away at Houston Dynamo, how have you found the culture change and experience of a new league?
“It was hard when I first came over last season but I feel like the time I came last season was good enough to get me prepared for the start of this one. I feel like I’m prepared for it, the culture change wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, people are nice and friendly here, had to just change things with food, that’s probably the only thing, the portions are a bit bigger so I need to watch what I’m eating and try to stay in reasonable shape! But apart from that, I’ve had a lot of support from the club, the staff and my teammates. The couple of months I had here before the end of last season got me ready enough for this season so I’m looking forward to it.”
Your coach is Adrian Heath, an Englishman who has amassed extensive experience particularly in the United States with over 300 games managed including for Orlando City and Minnesota United. Was his presence in Minnesota something which motivated you to join the club and how has your relationship been since arriving in the US?
“When my contract was running out at Hearts, I came over to see the facilities and spoke to him and the coaching staff, just speaking to him and he was saying the right things made me want to come here for a start and obviously I know a lot about him from his playing days, my Dad has seen a lot of him and let me know he was a good player. You learn a lot from good players, that’s what I wanted to do, I want to try and come here and learn a lot. I feel I already have and I hope that continues. I like the way he sets out the team especially this season, I feel we’re more organised and it’s all down to him. Definitely a massive factor in me coming here.”
Having arrived in Minnesota and introduced yourself to the league, what are your personal ambitions for the 2018 MLS season?
“On a personal level just being more involved and more goal-scoring opportunities, whether that’s an assist or a goal. Last season I only got one goal and one assist, in previous seasons usually I get more than that so I think now I’m used to the league I’ll be more involved (in the final third) and I think that will take its time of course but then hopefully more goals and assists will come.”
What are your ambitions for Minnesota United this season?
“As a team we have to build on what we had last season, we didn’t have a bad first start to the MLS and I feel like we’re going to do much better this season. We’ve already started better, every team’s goal is the play-offs, that would be a nice thing to achieve but just improving is massive for us and I feel we’ve already done that.”
MLSFootball would like to thank Sam, Minnesota United and especially The Loons’ Public Relations Manager Jessica Lopez for facilitating this interview. Minnesota United host Chicago Fire this weekend with a 6pm local time kick-off. Scarves Up, Minnesota!