Personal issues behind him, New York Red Bulls see changed man in Jonny Steele

HANOVER, N.J. – New York Red Bulls midfielder Jonny Steele has entered the 2014 season with a new outlook and it has both he and his head coach looking forward to another career year.

After a strong 2013 in which he racked up the third-most minutes on the squad, Steele returned to the Red Bulls without a sizeable chunk of the feistiness that has long been part of the 28-year-old midfielder’s makeup. His more positive and receptive demeanor has quickly drawn the attention of his coaches and teammates.

Petke, who also carries a well-documented edge, made a subtle but revealing statement at the club’s Media Day last week, pointing to Steele as somebody who impressed in preseason due more to the veteran’s fresh stance on things than anything else.

“Overall attitude adjustment,” Petke told MLSsoccer.com when asked to clarify what he meant with those comments. “A lot less of a chip on the shoulder, [which] I think stems from his whole life and it’s hard to change people. But he’s made adjustments and is more willing to accept instruction and criticism and just overall a positive outlook on life. We’re not ready to make a parade for him and say that he’s a changed man, but he really has come in with an enthusiasm and a positive attitude that we’re very thrilled about.”

Steele – who reached career highs in games (33), starts (32), goals (five) and assists (six) as the first-choice left midfielder for the 2013 Supporters’ Shield winners – recently provided some insight into his new perspective, saying that his personal life too often affected how he performed and carried himself, both in practice and in games.

“Last year I had a few personal problems off the field, and I think that reflected sometimes in my play and the majority of how I trained,” Steele told MLSsoccer.com, his voice and tone noticeably mellower than last season. “Those things are all sorted now, and then [it’s] just being more positive with myself and that hopefully relates to others players around me.

"Some of the guys have said to me they see a difference, so at the end of the day, I’m just going to keep continuing doing what I’m doing, focusing on what I need to do. Hopefully, that’s to help the team.”

That is not to say that Steele is a choirboy. He plans to continue to play with the same type of grit and fire that helped him climb from the lower levels of American soccer to a perennial powerhouse in MLS and even to the Northern Ireland national team. That style is in his DNA, after all.

But taking a step back to look at his life in detail has led him to be more positive, and Steele hopes his new attitude will rub off on his teammates and coaches. In fact, he sees that as the next step in his evolution as a player.

“I thought I had a good year, and I looked at myself [in the offseason] and thought, ‘How can I better last year?’ and there were things I were doing and things that were going on that I don’t need to be involved with,” said Steele. “If I can get them straight, I feel like I can have a better year than I did last year.

"I’m a person that’s never really comfortable with looking back and thinking I did well last year. I look back saying, ‘What did I do and how can I improve?’ I want to have a better year individually, and I want the team to have a better year. If I’m in the right mind frame and continue to be, then I feel I can do so.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.