MLS Spotlight: Journeyman Steele coming through in the clutch

Steele (Getty)

By THOMAS FLOYD

Jonny Steele was just 12 years old when he first visited the United States. Little did he know how influential that trip would ultimately be.

Traveling stateside for the USA Cup youth soccer tournament, Steele met some friends that he stayed in touch with over the course of his budding career. When the Northern Ireland Under-19 international departed the Wolverhampton Wanderers organization five years later, he evaluated his European options before deciding a more dramatic change of scenery would do him good.

"I had opportunities to stay in England," Steele said. "But I said I'd just come to America and give it a go."

Nearly a decade later, Steele is a veteran of six lower-level North American clubs, as well as four indoor soccer teams. The 26-year-old, whose body is as heavily inked as his resume, has got the journeyman thing down.

But this season, Steele is finally getting a shot to contribute for a top-flight club — eight years after he first went on an MLS trial, with the Dallas Burn. While the Real Salt Lake midfielder has contributed toughness to coach Jason Kreis' midfield in 12 appearances since signing during the preseason, he has made a name for himself across the league thanks to his flair for the dramatic.

Steele's first MLS goal came March 31, when he slotted home an 89th-minute equalizer for Salt Lake at Portland, moments before Kyle Beckerman capped the 3-2 comeback win with a stoppage-time strike. And his second tally was an exquisite 93rd-minute winner in a 3-2 triumph over Toronto FC on April 28.

"He's brought energy, passion, aggressiveness — things that you just don't find in everyday players," Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson said. "He's got a great left foot on him as well, and he's been able to get some big goals for us."

Before heading to the Rocky Mountains, Steele played for the Syracuse Salty Dogs, Rochester Raging Rhinos, Carolina RailHawks, Puerto Rico Islanders, Vancouver Whitecaps (prior to their MLS entrance) and FC Tampa Bay. In 2008 with Puerto Rico, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the United Soccer Leagues' top division.

To make some extra cash and stay fit during the offseason, Steele also had stints playing indoor for the Kansas City Comets, Baltimore Blast, Philadelphia Kixx and Syracuse Silver Knights. Although adjusting to the rapid-fire nature of the indoor game, in which players log quick, high-octane shifts, was difficult at first, Steele said the tight confines helped him clean up his touch and develop his one-on-one skills.

Steele first got wind of Salt Lake's interest in him while playing with Carolina last season, when he was paid a visit by RSL assistant coach C.J. Brown. Steele's days waiting for another MLS opportunity, it turned out, were coming to an end.

"They flew C.J. down to meet me personally and talk to me about RSL and what they believe, the team is the star and stuff like that, and did I buy into it," Steele recalled. "And I was like, 'Of course I do.'"

Steele signed with Salt Lake after a trial, adding wide midfield depth to a team that needed to replace departed wingers Andy Williams and Arturo Alvarez. And as Johnson pointed out, it didn't hurt that Steele's entrance also gave the club another strong locker room personality.

"Anybody who has ever met Jonny knows there is nobody in the world that's like Jonny Steele," Johnson said. "He's the most loyal and passionate person that I've ever met. Those are two really great qualities when they're handled in the right capacity, which they are now."

For Steele, his emergence as a key role player for Salt Lake means he just might be staying put for a while. As far as he's concerned, he couldn't have picked a better organization to settle down with.

"You learn something new every day in soccer," Steele said. "Every day we come in, it's about working hard and getting the best out of it. We're really held accountable. The standards are kept very high here.

"And hopefully I'm here for a while."

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20 Responses to MLS Spotlight: Journeyman Steele coming through in the clutch

  1. JRP says:

    Jonny Steel is just the kind of guy you want to see on the pitch for your team and just the kind of guy you never want your daughter to get close to. He is an animal and is becoming the most consistent newcomer for RSL. I can see him with the club for years. He is a natural fit in SL with his work ethic and small ego.

  2. Nick says:

    Best name of all time?

  3. Neruda says:

    He proved his metal to me during that SJ game where RSL went 2 men down and hung onto a tie until stoppage time. He hustled everywhere on the field that night.

  4. Minnesota Nice FC says:

    Jonny Steele is the one true captain of every team he is on or even not on. Carolina is a shell of a team without him. The Dark Clouds even made a tribute song to him as the Stars destroyed Carolina two weeks ago. ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U93DUlz5juM&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  5. Helium-3 says:

    Yeah he was already good before he came to MLS. It took MLS scouts this long to “discover” him??? I had been hoping DCU sign him few years ago while he proved his value during the CCL for the PR Islanders.

    If anyone had doubts about his quality, all they had to do was watch his play against the Mexican teams in the CCL.

  6. RLW2020 says:

    nothing says minor leagues like Syracuse Salty Dogs, Rochester Raging Rhinos

  7. Sam says:

    I saw him and Puerto Rico play against Mac Kandji and the Atlanta Silverbacks about 4 years ago. I didn’t know anyone on those teams going in, but those two certainly left an impression.

    It was interesting to watch his interaction with the Puerto Rico coach–it was almost like he was an assistant coach instead of a team captain. Not at all surprised he’s making it in MLS, but I am surprised nobody picked him up sooner.

  8. Joe+G says:

    Actually, the word you are looking for is “mettle”.

  9. Hincha Tim says:

    No. RSL tried to sign him several years ago but he turned RSL down.

  10. Ryan says:

    The recently retired jan venegoor of Hesalink may have something to say about that

  11. Hincha Tim says:

    See comment above. RSL tried to sign him several years ago but Steele did not want to at the time.

  12. sciroccer says:

    I just hope JK let’s me enjoy watching him play at the RioT for years to come. Love ya Johnny!!!

  13. b says:

    +1 for Jozy’s former strike partner at Hull City.

  14. b says:

    You’d think every player who was even in the running for MVP or golden boot or similar things would be a no-brainer for MLS teams, given the lack of roster depth and all the talentless guys taking up roster spots and collecting paychecks. Nice to see Steele getting a chance with RSL, and Etienne Barbara with Vancouver.

  15. Conor says:

    great to see someone from norn iron doing well in MLS

  16. Neruda says:

    Pun intended. I used the wrong mettle.

  17. ManchesterQuakesFan says:

    Sam… Steele’s coach for Puerto Rico was his countryman, Colin Clarke (former Dallas coach and until fairly recently joint-top international goalscorer for Northern Ireland).

    Although it sounds as though Jonny is just the kind of guy to be deeply involved in bridging the gap between coach and players, it’s possible that the reason they were talking so much was because no-one else in the staium understood their accents!

    “Stand up for the Ulstermen!”

  18. yankiboy says:

    Jonny has labored and toiled for years and I am thrilled that he is now making the most of his opportunity in MLS. I followed the guy’s career for years. I’ve seen him playing outdoors and indoors.

    He played a massive role in Puerto Rico Islander’s magical CONCACAF Champions League run.

    When Jonny is “all in”, he just sort of dynamic, tenacious, blue collar guy that I think every team needs.

  19. Joe+G says:

    Touche…

  20. Jeff says:

    He’s not from Brazil…. He’s from Northern Ireland!!