ORLANDO, Fla. – Stewart Kerr is living proof that MLS continues to break down international boundaries – and he insists global awareness of the league is only going to increase in 2016 as the successes of this year continue to reverberate in worldwide terms.
The new Orlando City SC goalkeeping coach still sounds like the passionate Scotsman he is but, after four years working for Toronto FC and the league, he now has a well-rounded view on outside perspectives of the American game.
And he is confident the arrival of the likes of Sebastian Giovinco with the Reds earlier this year and, more recently, former Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira as head coach of New York City FC, continues to spread a positive message of the league’s growth and appeal.
Kerr played for some of the great Celtic teams from 1991-2001 before taking to coaching in his native country. His switch from Motherwell to Toronto in late 2011 was something of a leap of faith but he is convinced it was the right move at the right time.
Now, as he prepares to join Orlando at the end of the year to replace Brazilian Marcos Machado, who has moved to join the Orlando Pride NWSL team, Kerr believes the international view of MLS is unmistakable.
“I was back in Scotland a month ago and there were live MLS games on TV, with a lot of soccer people watching and paying attention,” he explained. “It’s ideal time-wise because games follow on from the British games and they gain quite a following. Talking to people over there, it is now clear MLS is a really attractive option for players all round the world.
“I know coaches here now get emails on a daily basis with offers and interest from abroad, and I am very aware there are players in Scotland who are desperate to get a chance in this league. MLS has done a great job of branding itself in world terms, and it’s only going to get bigger in future.”
Kerr’s observations are not a major revelation, but they do confirm the recent Forbes article that charted the impressive recent growth of the league in both national and international terms.
“Even in the time I started with Toronto to now, it is totally different,” he added. “MLS has become a completely worldwide entity. Seb Giovinco has changed the perception that only older international players come here, and Patrick [Vieira] going to coach in New York is another sign of this change in thinking. MLS has become a very desirable league to be in.”
The 41-year-old is also a highly desirable signing for Orlando City as they tweak and amend the formula that saw them firmly established as one of the league’s higher-profile teams in their inaugural Major League year.
None of the Lions’ recent personnel changes, additions and switches in the last month add up to anything overly attention-grabbing, but they all follow a pattern of incremental building that the franchise has followed from day one and remains firmly committed to, despite some fan misgivings.
Kerr has worked with the likes of England goalkeeper John Ruddy and Brazil’s Julio Cesar, and his hiring also comes on the heels of that of former Toronto keeper Joe Bendik, brought in to replace the recently released Tally Hall. But he is insistent that one did not naturally follow the other.
“It is definitely not an old pals’ act,” Kerr said. “I am quite ruthless when it comes to making goalkeeping decisions and there will be no favors or anything like that. I have been watching Earl [Edwards, Jr.] from afar this year and am well aware that he has great potential.
“With Joe at 26 and Earl at 23, plus the homegrown talent of Mason Stajduhar, who I have also heard a lot about, Orlando has an unbelievable amount of talent to work with, and I can’t wait to get started.”
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The other thing Kerr is sure about in moving from Canada to Central Florida is that he will get the chance to enjoy another fully engaged fanbase.
“I compare the situation very much to Celtic because, although the clubs have different histories, they have that same passionate supporter culture,” he insisted. “For me, it made the decision to join really easy because when you have that sort of passion around the team, if you work hard and do the right things, there will be a lot of good times ahead.”
Kerr is also keenly anticipating working under head coach Adrian Heath, who remains a key component of City’s commitment to developing the franchise as an on-field force to be reckoned with, despite missing out on the play-offs this year.
“I think it was very clear, even from afar, that Adrian is totally devoted to the job, and he lives it 24/7, which is very much my own philosophy. Having worked under Craig and Archie, I see that exact same kind of mentality with Adrian with what he has done here.
“When you add in what I think are probably the most passionate fans in the league, the club has all the ingredients to succeed and I’m very much looking forward to being a part of that.”