The 2015 NASL season less than a week away and we couldn’t be more excited! We had such a ground breaking year last season and we truly enjoyed supporting the Fury and getting to know the team. The guys have been working hard in pre season and it’s time you knew a bit more about them. Scottish midfielder Nicki Paterson has some interesting stories to tell.
Describe the town where you grew up.
I grew up in a town called Motherwell, Scotland. There’s probably ten towns outside of Glasgow, the main city, and within that whole area there’s maybe a million people. But in my town itself maybe a couple hundred thousand something like that. It’s the sort of town where everyone, not everyone knows everyone but kinda like that. There was the football club Motherwell FC. It’s kind of in the middle of the town and a couple other clubs round about. When I was a kid it was just everybody playing soccer outside in the parks, or like at a school or whatever so for me, my early memory of growing up is just playing football in the park really.
When did you start playing organized soccer for a club?
When I was probably about 4 or 5. I mean my dad used to play when he was younger and I can remember from a very young age, there was balls lying everywhere. I think he was trying to make sure I followed him! But I think competitively, like 5, 6. I think at age 6 or 7 I was already playing 11 a side, where the ball barely goes off the ground but, yeah, I remember playing from a young age.
So you started by playing with the Motherwell club.
Yeah, I was playing just for a boys club and the name of the boys club when I was really young was Blackburn Rovers Boys Club but there was no affiliation. It was just all my friends from school and my dad and a few other parents doing the team. I was a year younger than everyone else just because I was ‘85 and they were all ‘84, but I still played with that group. And I got invited to a trial with Motherwell when I was around 12 and they thought I was 13. So when they found out I was 12, straight away I signed with them.
How did that help with your development?
From that moment on, that was my life. I was then training 3, 4 times a week from the age of 12, 13, 14, and a game at the weekend. I was also playing on my school team as well. So I was almost playing competitive soccer every single day. And for me that was huge. I mean being in that environment, the professional environment, you see all the first team players playing, and the reserve team, and the U19s and you just kind of learn their habits, what to do and what not to do. And for me that was when I made my biggest strides for sure.
And after you had been playing there, you made the big jump to North America. How did that come about for you?
Well after Motherwell I signed for Hamilton. I made my pro debut there when I was 17 so that was a huge deal for me. That was obviously the biggest moment in my career up till then and over the course of three seasons I played for three different coaches. They were in a little bit of financial trouble in my final year and the club decided to go part time. So rather than training every day and a game at the weekend, we trained two nights a week and at the weekend. And everybody’s salaries got halved so it was a difficult six months. At that point, I decided I either wanted to be full time somewhere or maybe pursue something in the States. There was a trial game at Rangers training academy where all of the American coaches came over and watched. And the day of the trial, the team I played for won 4 nil and I scored three of them, so it couldn’t have went any better that day! And at that point I met a few coaches from the States and it came about that I went to UNLV.
How was the development experience different in the States vs in Scotland?
I mean, obviously moving to Vegas was fun. But for me, I honestly thought it would be a fun year or six months when I would go there, switch off from being in Scotland and then go back to either Scotland or Ireland. That was my intention. And it was a very difficult moment, going to Vegas for the soccer side of things, because I mean, I hadn’t been in high school for years and to go back to college was difficult in itself. Football was my life and training was intense, whereas a lot of these guys did it for the scholarship or as a club. It wasn’t a life. They weren’t getting paid to play anymore. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into at first and the first year the team wasn’t the most professionally run to be honest with you, in my opinion. But it quickly changed with a new coach and the guys that he brought in and I ended up staying there for four years so I obviously enjoyed it. But it was a completely different life.
After Vegas, you went to Harrisburg City Islanders. How did you end up there?
Um, it was a weird one. I was in my last semester of college and, to be honest with you at one point I didn’t even think I was going to stay there, and then all of the sudden it was like “ok I’m gonna graduate with a degree in Phys Ed to be a PE Teacher.” And I was getting into my senior year and I was like “ok what’s gonna be next?” And obviously for me it was always professional soccer. So I thought “will I wait and graduate and come home in the summer and sign in Europe somewhere?” And then I get invited to a combine and there was some interest from a few MLS clubs at the time. I spoke to a few general managers and stuff about MLS teams and I didn’t know much about USL to be honest with you. I got asked to join a couple of clubs but I wasn’t really too sure. And then I got a phone call from the head coach at Harrisburg where a few guys I knew were playing and, I don’t know just one phone call kinda changed things. I had to go and ask a few of my professors would they give me a grade just to leave early and they gave me them so I was lucky. And my mom and dad, and my brother especially, were quite annoyed because they were going to come and see me walk. My brother had just turned 21 so he was desperate to come to Vegas and I had to tell them “by the way, I’m now going to go to Harrisburg.” So my brother came to Harrisburg for the summer holidays instead of Vegas! But it just all happened really really quickly.
How long were you with that team?
Just the one season. I probably got there around March time, kinda right at the very end of preseason. Most of the team was set and I was 24 at the time so I was like a 24 year old rookie of the USL, but I’d been playing professionally since I was 17 so it was kinda weird. But straight away I went in and played, started the whole season. The team finished third in the table, we’d lead the table for a lot of the year so it was a real good year. We had a really really good squad, just kinda faded towards the end and were unlucky in the semi-finals. But it was a short season and that was a lot of the reason I decided to do it because I thought worst-case scenario, the season finishes in August, I’d just go sign with a team at home. And then at the very end of that season, it was the day after our semi-final I got a phone call from Austin Aztecs, who are now Orlando, to go there. So I went to Austin, I trained there for a couple of weeks and they were going on a tour of Stoke, cuz the Stoke owner in England owns both teams. There was supposed to be a new manager potentially taking over and things like that. So I went to Austin and played the last little bit of the season and then signed a two-year contract. I went home in the offseason thinking I was going back to Austin, and then I don’t know what happened, but they decided they were going to go the route of Orlando, and the coach that was leaving decided to stay, and all of the sudden they got rid of everyone! They started almost from scratch apart from two guys I think. So although I’d only signed maybe a month before, I was one of the ones that they said “we don’t need you anymore”. And I was kinda like “alright, what am I going to do?” When this happened it was late January so the window was closed at home and at that point I wanted to be in the States. So that was a crazy first year of professional in the States!
So what did you do after that?
So the guy that was supposed to be getting the job at Austin Aztecs got the job to coach a team called Real Maryland, Anthony Hudson. His dad was a star for England, Alan Hudson. And again, I get a call out of the blue while I was home and he said “I heard you’re available, how would you feel about coming to play for me in Maryland?” And I was like “alright, let’s do it.” And I helped him a little bit, piecing the squad together because I knew the situation going in there. The owners had signed for three years, and this was the third year, after that the team was probably going to fold, he told me that right from the beginning. But this was the guy that wanted me to go to Austin with him and he had big aspirations to be a big coach. He’s now the head coach of the New Zealand National Team, so he’s done well for himself since then! But he said, “Look come play for me this year, wherever I go next year, I ‘ll take you there. I’m probably going to go to MLS as an assistant.” So I was like “alright, why not.” And then they got Mason Trafford there as well. I had a big part in him coming there. Me and Mason went to UNLV together, Real Maryland together and here together. So we have known each other for the last ten years. Wherever I go, he always seems to follow somehow!
And then after that I guess you went back to Scotland for a little bit.
My first two years in the States as a pro were crazy. When I moved to the Austin Aztecs, that looked like a step up, then Maryland. Then after that season, I had another good season when I went to a team called AC St Louis of NASL, and literally they folded right away at the end of the season. Again, I’d signed another 2-year contract so I was like “What’s going on here? Am I a bad luck charm here?” So again it was August and I went back home and I got a call from the coach at Clyde, Jim Duffy, who was an amazing player for Scotland for years and years. He said, “How ‘bout you come here on a short term loan, help us out.” And that was great. Clyde had been in the top levels of Scottish football but they dropped down a division. They have an amazing stadium, it was 10 minutes from my house so I decided to go home and try that for awhile. And that was always with the intention of coming back. Very quickly I ended up signing for Charleston and played for Clyde until it was time to go back to Charleston.
At Charleston Battery you had a couple of really good seasons; you were team MVP, so how was that experience for you?
To be honest with you it was a settling experience. After those two pretty crazy years, going there I was just happy. To me they were the best team in the league. They had the best stadium, they had the best surface, they had the best weather. They had everything going for them. I knew Colin Falvey, the Irish guy that we’ve signed, he was there, I knew a few of the lads that were playing there and I had loved playing against them. Every time I went there I was like, “I wanna play for this team.” So it was actually, I think it was Christmas Eve or something like that, I was in a pub in Scotland and I got a phone call from my agent saying I’ve got Michael Anhaeuser on the phone.” I was like “alright”. He was like, “Do you wanna come to Charleston?” I was like, “yeah” and we just agreed everything right there on the phone so it was like a 10-minute conversation and I was like “This is a really good Christmas”! Charleston for me just kinda felt like home, so I think that’s what probably brought the best out in me because I was relaxed, I just really enjoyed myself and I think that showed on the pitch for sure.
What contributed to your decision to come to Ottawa and play for the Fury?
At the time Charleston for me was the peak of USL and the first year I was there, we lost in the semi-final. We almost knocked Orlando out, but they went on and won it. And the second year 2012, I had my best year and we won the championship. At the end of that year I got asked to go to New York Red Bulls. There was another few MLS interests but New York had my rights so I had to go there. I could talk to you all day about that but that was just unfortunate because when I first went there they took two days to make a decision whether to sign me or Kaka’s brother. And they really wanted Kaka. Everybody knew Kaka was going to eventually come to MLS but where was he gonna go. And they had a place in New York so everybody assumed he would go there. So I think that was a big reason why they signed his brother. They wanted me to stay for the rest of the season and train with them anyway when there was another team that was interested in just signing me off the bat. But New York had my rights so there was nothing I could really do. So I was there for two months, which was phenomenal. I loved it. Went back for preseason, spent another few months and then they made a few trades late on and they needed to use the foreign spot that I would be taking up so I had to go back to Charleston. And at that moment in time, to go from New York back to Charleston was a tough one to take. And don’t get me wrong, we had a really good season. We made it to the semi-final again and I loved it, my (now) wife loved it there as well. But I was just about to get married and I had to think about did I see myself being in Charleston another 3, 4 years or what would be next. And to be honest with you I had another 2 years left on my contract and I wasn’t really thinking about leaving until Marc Dos Santos called me. And then it was not only a different challenge in football and Marc’s vision, which sold me straight away, it was a really good opportunity for my wife to come here and work. Because we are both Scottish, she could work here straight away and we get free health care and stuff like that. So for once it wasn’t just soley a decision for me. I was leaving a team that had the best grass surface in the US to come to a turf field and we hadn’t signed any other players yet and we’d no stadium yet! It was a bold decision! But you know yourself, you speak to Marc for 5 minutes, he’s got you straight away and that’s what happened.
Unfortunately, you missed the spring season last year with an injury, so how did you stay motivated to keep training and stay fit?
That was the hardest part in my career. I’d never really missed a game through injury that I can remember in my career. So to go from barely missing a day’s practice to missing 4 or 5 months was just soul destroying for me. I think everybody expected so much from me coming in last year and I expected so much of myself after the way Charleston had went that you feel that you’ve let everyone down. And then people already say, “Oh what’s he doing, he’s not helping us here”. It was so tough not being involved because I felt like I had a really good preseason. The first game down in Fort Lauderdale I could have scored a couple of goals and I had to sit and think about that for months. That one game replaying it over and over in my head, which I do always, so it was very very tough for me. And then there were just a few complications and I didn’t get back as quick as I thought I would and I probably rushed back too quick as well. Because I had family in town and we were playing Rangers as well, and for me I wanted to get back on the field.
With the season about to start, how have you seen yourself develop from last year to this year?
For me, massively! I feel the same way now that I felt when I was in Charleston having the best part of my career. For me it was only probably two months left in the season when I started to feel somewhat good again last year. So when the season finished, for me it never really finished. I just kept going the whole way through. I made the decision with my wife to stay here in the off-season and I would focus my off-season on getting better here. And luckily guys like Tommy, Mason, and Carl were staying and we all sat down with Kyle Thorne, the conditioning guy and made individual programs to get ourselves better. For me I got bigger, faster, stronger, I tried to get myself in the best possible shape to make up for last year.
What are your goals for this year?
I’m not gonna be like Tommy and say I’m gonna score 15 goals! But for me I just know that if I’m fit and healthy that things will come off the back of that. For me, I want a healthy season first of all so I’m gonna do everything I possibly can weather it be eat right, sleep right, train right in order to have the best possible chance to stay healthy. And I know myself that last year I got a couple of goals and even then I should have had 5 or 6 in the games that I did play. I just imagine if I had a full season at it with what I think is an even stronger squad and stronger pieces round about me that chances will come my way and I’ll take them. So I’m not worried about that. But collectively the team has got to be a main goal. I mean if I score no goals but we win a championship, I’ll take that. If my role is to just stop the other team from scoring, then that’s whatever the coach needs me for. But I know I can produce and I know I can score and I’m going to obviously try and get as many as possible. But for us, I think it’s about now as a team not just being competitive but actually getting results. And we’re a lot more mature as a group. I think there’s a lot of individual leaders out there now and I don’t see why we can’t do that.