ANDY DRIVER is heading back to Edinburgh unsure if his American dream can continue. Salary cap rules in Major League Soccer will likely force him to leave Houston Dynamo and find a new club.
That could potentially be anywhere. Britain, China, Australia or Outer Mongolia, Driver is eager to experience new cultures after ten enthralling months in Texas.
The 26-year-old becomes a free agent on January 1 and is preparing, with some reluctance, to leave the United States. He will come home to Scotland to spend Christmas with family and then set about finding a new employer in the New Year, unless a late turnaround permits a return to The Dynamo. Rumours have resurfaced about interest from his Lancashire birthplace in the form of Burnley, but they have not been in touch. Driver is willing to consider any offer.
“I might have to move on from Houston,” he told the Evening News from his Texan home. “I’ve really enjoyed it here and I’d love to stay. I’d definitely come home and give it another shot in Britain but I’d definitely stay here as well. I’m open to anything, really. I’ve really enjoyed this year and the experiences I’ve had in America but I’m open to trying another experience.
“It’ll probably be most likely that I’ll have to move on. With salary caps and everything, they may be struggling [to keep me]. You’re contracted to the MLS over here rather than your club so it’s really up to them. I think everything will happen sharpish because my contract will be up soon.”
Funding for American soccer is dwarfed by that of American football and baseball. As an example, the NFL’s new television deal is worth $3billion (£1.9bn) a year. The current MLS television contract is worth just $10m (£6.2m) per year. Driver initially joined The Dynamo on loan from Hearts in February and switched to a permanent contract in the summer.
“I had ten amazing years at Hearts, winning the Scottish Cup and everything,” he recalled. “I wouldn’t hesitate to go back further down the line. There are another couple of things I want to test myself with first. I want to go to different places. It’s not about money or anything else. I’ve just enjoyed coming to a different city with a different culture and getting involved with it.
“Football is such that you have to move on at times. I’ve always been open to going to different places. I loved my time in Scotland. I’d love to have a shot in another league if I can’t stay here. I would play in most places. Obviously all my family live in Scotland so I’d definitely go there.
“I’m at a stage in my life where I’m happy to try new things. Being in America has bettered me as a player and as a character. I’ve learned a lot of life lessons and realised there is a lot to life. I love playing football again and I want to continue saying that. It’s quite nice being able to say ‘football’ again, by the way.”
He hasn’t picked up any Americanisms but Driver has totally immersed himself in the US way of life – even the mammoth plane journeys of up to six hours for some away matches. “I’ve learned most as a person. The move all happened really quickly and I was out of my comfort zone for the first time and away from home. I’d been at Hearts for so long and this was an experience I really wanted. I’m really happy I did it and I’m lucky I got the opportunity to do it.
“The biggest thing here is the massive journeys between games. You really need to learn how to let your body recover.
“We had one trip earlier this year where we played LA Galaxy away on the Sunday night and then DC United in Washington on the Wednesday night.
“That’s a six-hour plane journey, which was followed by another three-hour flight back to Houston to play Kanzas on the next Sunday. Another mental one was when we played in Trinidad on the Thursday, which is a six-hour flight, and then had to go up to Montreal, which is another three hours past Houston. There are some crazy trips. It’s like playing in the Champions League every single week. It does get a bit weary.
“It was nice seeing all these places and a great experience but it takes it out of your legs. Especially when you have a game and then you’re up travelling on a flight at 6am the next morning. Some of the techniques the physiotherapists use here have really helped. It’s a very athletic league as well so I’ve had to learn new things about that side.”
Driver reached the MLS Cup Conference Final with The Dynamo after finishing fourth in the league, but defeat to Sporting Kanzas late last month ended what was a productive season on a personal note. “I won Houston Dynamo’s Newcomer of the Year award and I was nominated for the All-Stars team. It’s not like I came out here and didn’t achieve anything,” he pointed out. “The first few months were really good and I was nominated for MLS Goal of the Week a couple of times and the All-Stars team. It’s really given me a big confidence boost.
“The last couple of years at Hearts didn’t go as well as they could have for me. When that happens you begin to doubt yourself. I was low on confidence. Coming out to America really injected a bit of confidence back in me. I realised I can reach the level I want to be at. I’ve come out here and had to play against players I don’t know. In Scotland, I knew most people.”
He did bump into a few recognisable faces in the MLS, including his former Tynecastle colleague Jose Goncalves, now with New England Revolution. “The difference in standard isn’t massive from where I was in Scotland, you just get a few absolute superstars thrown in here. I’ve played against Thierry Henry, Alessandro Nesta, Tim Cahill, Clint Dempsey and people like that. That’s the biggest highlight.”
It will be difficult to top glamour like that regardless of his next destination. No matter where he goes, Driver will insist on making the most of his experience.