Tyrone Mears has been playing away from home for four years now.
Mears, born in England, played on six different English soccer teams, including his youth appearances for Manchester City, before leaving the United Kingdom to continue with the sport. The right back has had success in Major League Soccer, even winning the MLS Cup in his second season with Seattle.
Family members, including four children, have stayed rooted in England, however, making occasional visits during school holidays.
“I’m definitely getting used to it, but it’s hard for my family back home,” he said.
Despite the distance between them, Mears said he has found a good fit with his new U.S. club, his third in four Major League Soccer seasons.
Mears joined Seattle in 2015, then was acquired by expansion team Atlanta United last year. He joined Minnesota United by way of the MLS re-entry draft in December.
Mears has played in four of seven games but leads the Loons in crosses this season with 24. The Loons have relied on Mears to take set pieces when he’s been healthy.
“He’s put good quality in the box,” Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said. “For most defenders, it’s a great opportunity, to take set pieces in the final third. … That has lacked certainly since I’ve been at the club.”
Harrison Heath, who played with Mears in Atlanta and now is a teammate in Minnesota, said Mears has helped the team improve on the defensive side this year. Mears joined a Loons club that allowed a league-record 70 goals last season.
“He comes with a lot of experience,” Harrison Heath said.
“He’s helped massively.”
Mears first played professional soccer at age 19. The defender has had his share of setbacks along the way. He broke his leg while playing for Bolton Wanderers in 2011.
This season he has been fighting through a calf injury that has forced him to miss practice and games. He has been ruled out for the Loons’ match on Saturday at Portland.
“I’m still kind of recovering and trying to get through training,” Mears said.
“It will be a little bit longer, I think.”
Travel also can take a toll on players in MLS. Mears said his teams in England and France took chartered planes to matches. In the United States, soccer is not big enough yet to travel that way consistently, which means longer hours taken up by travel.
Mears’ age might add to the physical toll soccer can take, but it also helps him be a leader on the team. His experience allows him to spot parts of the game that he can teach younger players about. He said he also gives advice to players who play different positions than him.
As he has grown older, Mears said he does not try anything different in terms of fitness and maintenance. He said he is thankful he learned about stretching at a young age.
“If I would not have done that, then maybe I wouldn’t be playing in this stage right now,” Mears said.
Jack White is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.