Sam Nicholson might be newly arrived in the U.S., but he’s already catching on to the lingo.
“It’s important as a football player — or as a soccer player, sorry — I think it’s important that you feel welcome, you feel wanted,” the Scot said. “And once you get a good vibe, you should go ahead with it.”
The Scottish winger experienced all of those emotions when visiting Minnesota United FC back in late May. And as of Monday, the 22-year-old is officially a Loon.
The 5-9, 157-pound Nicholson is the first of likely several new additions this transfer window as United aims to bolster its depth. His probable first action will be in the friendly against Mexican club Atlas on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Nicholson is a product of Scottish top-division team Heart of Midlothian F.C.’s youth academy. He eventually made 127 appearances and scored 15 goals for the senior side. He has also played for his country at the youth levels.
“The good thing is, he’s really excited about coming here,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “Obviously, there’s always that people [are] asking, ‘Why are you leaving Europe to go to America?’ When everybody here is trying to get to Europe. But he sees it as a step up, which I think it is. I think MLS is a step up on the Scottish Premier League.”
Heath said he has known of Nicholson for a long time from his connections in his native U.K. He spoke to one of his former colleagues Ricky Sbragia, who coached Nicholson on the Scottish youth national team, and Sbragia gave a “glowing reference.” Heath also said he had heard Nicholson would be out of contract, and that made it a “no-brainer” to sign such a young player on a free transfer.
“He gives us some stuff that we’re lacking,” Heath said. “He plays in a wide area. He’s very good one-for-one. He can beat people. He’s got great energy levels, likes to get in the box. I think he has a goal in him.”
The coach is also looking forward to what Nicholson’s arrival will do for his current players. Heath wants more competition for playing time, as that will up everyone’s level.
For his part, Nicholson said after spending his whole career at Heart, he was looking for a change. He spoke to former teammate and MLS player Perry Kitchen about the league, and he spoke “very highly” of it.
The winger said while his agent was talking with other clubs, Nicholson made his decision “instantly” once he visited Minnesota, as it made him feel at home “straight away.”
Nicholson said he doesn’t care which side of the pitch he plays on and is more just excited to try to break into the lineup wherever he can.
“It’s obviously a technical league. There’s a lot of players good on the ball and stuff, and that’s how I play,” Nicholson said. “I’m not big. I’m not strong. I just want to play with the ball on my feet, and I think I’ve come to the right team to do it as well. I’ve seen the way they play. I’ve seen the way they train. It’s going to suit me.”
Nicholson endured a right knee injury that required surgery to “stitch up the cartilage” back in October. While he missed about four months of the season, he said the injury won’t have any lasting effects and he felt pretty much fully fit toward the end of his last season in Scotland.
Even with that, Heath is hopeful Nicholson can make an immediate impact.
“He’s now going through what would have been his preseason. He’s obviously coming off his knee (surgery) as well, so he hasn’t played a lot of football,” Heath said. “But were going to work hard with him now in the next two days to hopefully get him a lot more prepared for when he does come.
“And, hopefully, there’ll be two or three others joining him.”