Driver hoping for new beginning with Dynamo
Ask Andrew Driver for his first impressions of Houston and he talks about the hot climate. It's a natural topic for someone who has just moved from Scotland to Texas.
Extreme heat is a novelty for the Dynamo's new midfielder but he knows radical cold better than almost anyone. He has spent time at minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit - without even wearing a coat.
As is obvious from his game-changing turn as a goalscoring substitute in last Sunday's 3-2 defeat to FC Dallas, Driver is fit and ready to start for the Dynamo against Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday if required.
But Saturday is a long way from where Driver was three years ago. At that time, he was sidelined and desperate to end a run of nagging injuries. So the former England youth international turned to cryotherapy: a modern spin on the traditional ice bath that has been used by a range of athletes, including France's Franck Ribéry ahead of Euro 2012.
The user typically stands in a chamber for a couple of minutes as ultra-chilly air swirls around the body, dramatically lowering skin temperature. The theory is that this changes blood flow to promote tissue healing.
Driver used the treatment at a luxury spa near London that was also hosting a veteran rock star and a former heavyweight boxer. "That was a crazy day, Alice Cooper was in there, Frank Bruno," he told HoustonDynamo.com.
"You go into a chamber that's like, minus 100 degrees Celsius or something, real cold. You wear gloves and socks to stop yourself getting frostbite and walk around in there for a while. I tell you, it's horrible when you're doing it but when you get out you feel invigorated. You can feel all the blood rushing around your whole body. It's a good experience."
Like taking the Arctic plunge into an ice bath? "A million times beyond that! Saying that, you don't feel it as cold as an ice bath, for some bizarre reason."
Asked if it was effective, Driver said: "I don't know. It was just another thing I tried, I only did it once so it'd be hard to tell if it worked in the long run."
It was understandable that he would turn to an unusual method to alleviate his injuries because at the time they had stalled a highly promising career and he was ready to do anything to return to action.
"A few years ago I couldn't even train twice a week, my body just couldn't take it. It was a long couple of years," he said. "Eventually I found a formula that I can do and I don't miss any training sessions nowadays. A big part of that is yoga and strengthening in the gym. It's been hard work but I think I've got my body back to a place and a position where I can handle the rigors."
Like the Dynamo's Giles Barnes, Driver represented England at the youth level. Born in Oldham, near Manchester, Driver played a match for England Under-21s in 2009. But the next year he pledged his allegiance to Scotland, the country he moved to aged 11, after a FIFA rule change made him eligible.
He is yet to feature for Scotland but international soccer seems far from unrealistic for a player who - like Barnes - was a rising star in the UK before injuries struck. In 2010, press reports claimed that Hearts would only listen to offers in excess of £3.5 million (about $5m) for a player linked with clubs in England's top two divisions and that year's Dutch champions, FC Twente.
That summer, Driver had knee surgery then tore a thigh muscle in a reserves game in the fall. The following May he had a hernia operation. He managed only 14 appearances in each of the 2010-11 and 2009-10 campaigns but played 28 times for Hearts in the current season and 30 the year before, suggesting his problems are behind him.
"Anyone who's been injured before knows how long it takes to get back to full fitness. I've had a couple of really hard seasons where I've been playing not up to my ability," he said. "We've been going through tough times at my old club, and the older players kind of got phased out a little bit. But I felt there were signs I was coming back to my best and hopefully I can continue improving here and kick on to the level that I know I can get to."
Driver is loving the Dynamo and their city, in part because Houston is such a contrast to Edinburgh, Scotland's venerable capital. "No castle on a hill!" Driver said. "It's been an experience. Obviously going to Mexico [to play Santos Laguna last week] was a different experience as well. And my first [MLS] game at the weekend. It's all been a bit of a whirlwind and I've enjoyed every minute so far."
A new club, let alone a new country, is a novelty for the 25-year-old. He graduated from the Hearts Academy in 2003 and made his first-team debut for them in 2006, staying with the Edinburgh team until a loan deal brought him to the Dynamo in February. A permanent move is a possibility.
"I was at Hearts for a long time, we achieved quite a bit, won the Scottish Cup and things but it was time for a move on. You can go a little stale when you're at the same place for such a long time so it's nice to have a fresh start. To come to new surroundings and learn off different people. So far, so good," he said.
"I've always enjoyed America and American sport and obviously with Houston being one of the better teams in the league, I watched a couple of games last year. It's something I jumped at the opportunity to do and the lifestyle is completely different, it's what I needed in my life. I'm really happy that I made this decision."
A left-footed winger with pace, skill and sharp distribution, Driver knows that with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia patrolling the flanks for the Dynamo he will have to battle for a berth in the first XI. But with both wide men away on international duty, Driver surely has a shot at starting against Vancouver.
He came off the bench against Dallas for a lively 21-minute cameo that included a fine finish off the crossbar to kick-start the Dynamo's ultimately fruitless comeback from a 2-0 deficit.
"I've only been here a short time but from what I've seen of my teammates so far the boys will do everything they can to bounce back," Driver said.
With the interview over, he headed off - his mission for the afternoon to find a yoga center near his home. And, of course, to enjoy the weather.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian as well as SI.com.