One of the main excitement factors of a new season is finally having the opportunity to check out the new talent. It’s always thrilling to see the potential of the players coming into MLS and the type of impact they will have for their clubs. Still, coming into a new situation for any player can be difficult.

New country, different language, and a different culture on and off the pitch – it is not as smooth sailing as one would think. From an outsider's perspective, it can be seen as just about waking up, going to training, playing a match on the weekend and all will be gravy. But when I think about my experiences walking into a new locker room for the first time, it reminds me of the look my daughter gave me the first time she walked into her kindergarten class. She was nervous and shy, hesitant to enter the classroom, and unlike her, I didn’t have my dad’s leg to hold on to. But I knew exactly what was going through her head.

135 new players joined MLS for the first time this season, and I can guarantee that for each one of them it’s a big change and a big challenge, whether you’re an experienced pro with high expectations like Xherdan Shaqiri with Chicago Fire FC or a player like Yaw Yeboah playing his first minutes for Columbus Crew after arriving from the Polish First Division.

Xherdan Shaqiri - embed
Xherdan Shaqiri

All of my experiences walking into a new locker room were different. None of them were alike. Walking into Germany to play for Hannover 96 was totally different than walking into an English or Mexican locker room, the latter of which was unexpectedly my smoothest transition.

In Holland, I remember meeting some of my new teammates at PSV at the airport in Eindhoven. We had arrived at the same time. They were coming in from a preseason trip and I was arriving for the very first time. I didn’t quite know what to expect. The normal emotions were going through my 22-year-old head at the time: Would I get along with everyone? Would everyone like me? Is training going to be the same as I am used to in Chicago? Where is the grocery store?

I found out quickly that not everyone was going to be so friendly. In the end everyone was amazing, but at the beginning it didn’t dawn on me that I was there to take someone’s job. Not everyone greeted me and then having to go out and prove yourself on the pitch, let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I soon realized that it wasn’t that my teammates were cold. They just needed to see if I was going to be an asset or a liability.

DaMarcus Beasley playing for PSV Eindhoven

I think most players go through a “nervous” first couple of days when walking into a new club. But with that comes a new experience, a new challenge. These are opportunities that we as players all strive for. If you can take care of the off-the-field necessities first, like phone, transportation, living arrangements, internet, personally for me, that always helped me adapt a lot quicker. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn that until I was already on my third country!

It’ll be different for every player no matter where they go. It can be Ricardo Pepi in Augsburg, Alphonso Davies in Munich or Thiago Almada in Atlanta – it’s not easy.

Very rarely do things go as perfectly as you play them out in your head. You try to understand and embrace a new culture that you are in. At the same time, you try to bring the high level of football you were brought in to produce. Every player is different, every player moves to a different beat but at the end of the day, all that I have said can be deemed an “excuse” as to why a player didn’t perform as they should. Football can be unforgiving at times, but it is the most beautiful sport in the world, isn’t it?