SANDY, Utah — It's well documented how long Real Salt Lake midfielder Jonny Steele labored to finally get his shot in Major League Soccer. But now that the 26-year-old from Northern Ireland is 24 games into his RSL career, the journey still hasn't stopped.
"I am just enjoying it, getting minutes and trying to help the team out," said Steele. "Obviously, I am learning every day, learning from good coaches and learning from high-quality players — adapting to the speed of play. I figure this year's a settling in period, but I'm still working as hard as I can to get better every day and see where it comes next year."
Steele signed a four-year deal before the season after a nomadic career that took him from the Wolverhampton Wanderers of the English Premier League to the Puerto Rico Islanders of the USL First Division — where he was the league MVP in 2008. And even with all the stops under his belt, it's taken some time for him to begin to feel comfortable.
GOAL: Steele wins it late for RSL
"Speed of play and keeping the ball more," said Steele of the biggest adjustments since joining MLS. "In USL, it was very direct. You'd put the ball in behind and then pressure. Here, we like to keep the ball, especially with Real Salt Lake, they are one of the best passing teams around."
A couple of things that haven't changed no matter where Steele has been: "I think I bring a good work rate and some tenaciousness," he said.
The only question with Steele's tenacity has been whether or not occasionally it is too much. He has already served a suspension for yellow-card accumulation, and has been cautioned six times. But he is not about to change the way he plays.
"It is just playing the game," said Steele. "If the ball is there and it is a hard tackle, I don't even think about it. I think only one of my yellows has been talking back to the ref, the other ones have all been playing.
"I think if I don't make them tackles, Jason [Kreis, RSL head coach] is going to have a word with me saying, 'You got to make them tackles.' I'm going in to win the ball. I never go in to hurt someone; that's someone's else's job, taking money off the table for them and I never want to do that."
While there are things about his game he wouldn't change and doesn't want to change, there are still aspects that are a work in progress.
"I think that we are not at the finished product yet," said Kreis. "I think that we are getting close. I feel like when he has come off the bench, he's made a solid contribution every single time, and some of the games he's started he's done well, and some of the games he's started he hasn't done well.
"I still think he is adjusting to the pace of play," added Kreis. "He's adjusting to how quickly things need to happen in transition going from offense to defense and defense to offense. He's also adjusting to the tremendous amounts of work it takes to play in our midfield."