Jonny Steele, who has spent parts of the past three seasons playing in Major League Soccer, is nonetheless a familiar name to Minnesota soccer fans.
He played against Minnesota teams for several years, appreciating the interplay with fans at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
Now he’s on the other side after signing with Minnesota United of the North American Soccer League last week.
The midfielder, known for an aggressive, attacking style, chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q You had a good run with the New York Red Bulls of MLS, but you left in the middle of last season to play in Australia. What was the reasoning behind that?
A I was dealing with personal stuff. My dad had a stroke, and I was going through some other things. … But there’s no point in looking back. You just have to keep looking forward.
Q You played with some great players in New York, including Thierry Henry. What was that experience like?
A I grew up watching Thierry. He’s a legend. One of the world’s best players. Just to see his hunger, as much as he’s achieved, was unbelievable. And he’s just a good guy, you know. … I hung out with him. He taught me a lot of stuff, including how to be more of a professional. I know I matured a lot just in the time that I moved to MLS. I used to be a bit of a hothead. Now I’m 28, and I’m maturing.
Q You’re known for having a feisty style, and like you said you had a reputation for being a hothead. As you’ve matured, have you still been able to keep your edge on the field without crossing lines?
A Yeah, I’ve still got the nasty streak in me. You have to play with that if it’s part of your game.
Q Having played in both MLS and the NASL, what is the fundamental difference you see in the two leagues?
A I think it’s just the consistency. I think our league is getting better and better. There have always been good players in the NASL.
Q What in particular made you interested in coming here?
A United is probably the most consistently successful team [in the NASL] when you look at the last few years. I played against them when I was with Real Salt Lake in 2012 during the Open Cup. They were a good team then. And I’ve known [head coach] Manny Lagos for a long time.
Q You’re pretty well tattooed up. I’m assuming a lot of them have particular significance to you, yes?
A Yes, I grew up around Belfast [Northern Ireland] and that’s a big part of my life. Every one of them has a meaning. I don’t just get dolphins tattooed on me or anything.
Q Speaking of that, you played for the Northern Ireland national team in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. What was that experience like and what did it mean to you?
A It was a dream come true. As a young boy I set goals. When I came to America I wanted to play in MLS and I played in MLS. And then I wanted to play for my country and it became a reality.