Perhaps Mark Ridgers got out of America just in time. Donald Trump’s impending presidency has left one of the world’s biggest and most powerful nations holding its breath. Radical change is guaranteed, so Ridgers’ departure from Orlando City may be a blessing.
“One of the security guards at the airport spoke to me when I was leaving,” explained the former Hearts and St Mirren goalkeeper. “I had four or five massive suitcases lined up and he said: ‘Did you enjoy your holiday?’ I told him I was living there but was moving back home. He leaned over and replied: ‘This isn’t anything to do with Mr Trump, is it?’
“I just laughed it off but it’ll be very interesting to see what happens over there in the next few years. The election was on every news channel there and you’re living it every day. I think they’re in for a big change if he does what he’s promised.”
Ridgers won’t miss the political saturation but it might take time to readjust to the climate back in his native Highlands. “I got off the plane at Inverness to rain and six degrees. When we left Florida, it was about 25 degrees. The good thing is I’m back with my dogs and my family.”
On a more serious note, he is out of work and looking for a club. A year in America with Orlando City B team was an enthralling experience but lacked the passion and intensity of British football. He must quickly find a team in Scotland or England which needs a 26-year-old goalkeeper with ambition to progress.
“I’ve missed the competitiveness and the passion of the fans here. That’s something America doesn’t really have, whereas it’s definitely there in UK and European football. Players go the US towards the end of their careers, like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Kaka etc. They go there to wind down and America is a great place to do that.
“I read an interview with Lampard the other day and he was saying he could go down to Central Park with his dogs and his wife and hardly anybody said anything to him. Imagine him doing that at Chelsea? It’s a completely different environment over there.
“If you can make it in the MLS, I highly recommend it. They pay silly money to players. I’ve seen some guys on stupid amounts of money who would struggle to get a game in League One or League Two in Scotland.”
Orlando City B play in the United Soccer League, the third tier of football in the USA, and are a feeder club for their senior side in the MLS. Their salaries are modest, although Ridgers enjoyed sharing a training ground with the Brazilian superstar Kaka each day. He left despite the outside chance of a move into the club’s MLS squad.
“They actually wanted me and a couple of other boys to stay with the USL squad for next year. Six of us from the USL squad trained with the MLS squad for the last couple of weeks of the season. The new manager, Jason Kreis, wanted a look at us.
“He said I did really well in training and he was impressed. As an option, they were looking at offering me an MLS contract in December but it depended on getting another goalie in. The manager had one in mind that he’d worked with before and he wanted to bring him in. If that didn’t work out, I was the next option.
“For me, it was hard to wait till December and see if that was happening or not. If it didn’t, I’d have wasted valuable time to get fixed up with a club here. Unless something really good comes up in America again, my plan is to stay in the UK and get back playing here.
“My agent has spoken to a few teams to put my name back out there. I’m trying to do the right thing for myself and my wife as well. As much as she enjoyed the weather in Florida, she was missing home and wasn’t working so she found it difficult to adapt. I know she wasn’t keen on staying in America so I have to do what’s best for us both.”
“I’ve spoken to Ross County to see if I can get in there and train to keep myself fit. When the window opens in January, players will move and there might be an opportunity for me somewhere. My agent has spoken to two teams in Scotland and three in League One and League Two in England. It’s just a case of trying to stay full-time at the highest level possible.
“I’m 26 now, I’ve been to America and I moved to Hearts when I was 16, so moving around isn’t an issue for me. Doing these things made me a better person.”
One of the benefits of being back home is familiar surroundings, even if they are cold and wet and not drenched in sunshine.
“The biggest thing I’m looking forward to just now is a proper Christmas with my family for the first time in ten years,” explained Ridgers.
“When I was at Hearts and St Mirren we were playing around Christmas, sometimes training on Christmas Day, so I couldn’t get up the road. Other times I’d get home for a day and then need to leave again. I’m going to enjoy Christmas this year.”