HOUSTON – Back in Edinburgh, Andrew Driver would have been sitting down to supper, retreating indoors after another cloudy, rain-swept day on Scotland’s eastern coastline.
On Friday, his first day in Houston after arriving in the middle of the night, Driver emerged from the Dynamo’s training facility with the sun shining on his face, surveying a pristine field quite unlike the winter-ravaged pitches from whence he came.
And despite the six-hour time difference and late-night, transatlantic flight, Driver went through the motions with his new teammates ahead of Saturday's game vs. D.C. United (7 pm CT, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), showing off the cultured left foot he’s known for as well as a fair complexion that will require a commitment to SPFs not needed in Scotland.
“I’ve got sunscreen on already,” he said, smiling as he explained why a player once linked with Chelsea decided his next move lay Stateside. "I’ve not seen the sun in about three months in Scotland.
“It’s a desirable place to come because the league’s on the up. There’s a positive feeling around it. Obviously, I’ve been playing in Scotland for a long time, and it was a choice between going down to England or coming here. I really fancy a big chance and a start that’s totally fresh. Maybe people don’t know me and I can come here and improve my game and just get on with things really.”
How much he’ll play right away remains a bit of a mystery, even if his talent leaves little to doubt.
Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear said he would be “respectful” of the fact that Driver must adjust to life in MLS – immediately to the time difference and his new teammates and, in the long term, to the weather, travel and other intricacies of the league as a whole.
No matter how quickly he adapts, Driver will have a fight for playing time on his hands this year in Houston. Though the left-footed midfielder can play on both flanks, the 25-year-old must compete with Brad Davis and Boniek García, two of the league’s most productive and respected wide midfielders, for minutes.
Kinnear made that clear in their discussions, but with opportunities available during CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup play – as well as holes to fill during international absences – both felt Driver would still have plenty of time to show his abilities even if he doesn’t force himself into the starting XI early on.
“In speaking with him before he came here, [he knows] that it’s a pretty busy season for us,” Kinnear said. “It’s 40-plus games. There are going to be absences through international [call-ups], suspensions, injuries. We explained to him that two of our real good players are wide guys in those positions, but he’s going to get more than enough chances to play and show himself and that he belongs on the field. He understood that and respected that.”
That respect certainly extends to MLS as a whole, a league Driver said has lots of “buzz around it at the moment.”
And although Scottish imports – he is actually English-born, despite plying his trade up north – haven’t been universally successful in recent seasons (Kris Boyd, Barry Robson etc.), Driver made no bones about his goals in the United States while addressing the perception of MLS overseas.
“As a league and a whole, it’s improving,” he said. “There are lots of big stars coming over here now. I think you just need to look at the amount of players coming from the MLS and going to places like the Premier League and over to Europe. It’s not as if people see it as a place for retirement. Now, it’s a place where you can go and really enhance your career.”