A Mackem In America: Roker Report Meets... Ged Quinn

Ged in action.

I've told you in the past that we at Roker Report go all over the world in search of the best interviews. You never know where they are going to turn up, and we've talked to folks from across the globe in our quest to bring you the best Sunderland AFC content.

We have some splendid names coming up for you in the next few weeks and months, and while you may not have heard of today's interviewee, we like to cover all bases for you on the site.

With that in mind, may I introduce Ged Quinn, a Mackem by birth who plys his trade as a footballer in the U.S of A.

Ged was good enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to us, so this seems as good a time as any for me to stop wittering on and just get down to the fun stuff. Ladies and gentlefolk, welcome along to Roker Report meets Ged Quinn.

Hi Ged, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. You play for Reading United over in the States. First things first, how did that come about?

Ged: "It's a bit of a long story to be honest. I originally came out here in 2005 on a soccer scholarship to attend Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina. I played there for two years while I completed my Masters in business at the university. After graduating, I played one season at for the New Orleans Shell Shockers (now called the New Orleans Jesters) who play in the same tier as Reading United. After the season in New Orleans I was offered the opportunity to attend pre-season training with a number of NASL and USL professional teams, but had no guarantee of being placed on a roster and had no promises of a work visa. The problem I had was that teams were only allowed 6 non-US citizens on their roster, so I knew it was going to be tough to get a spot as a center back. Most of the international spots were awarded to attacking players and potential game winners. At the same time, I was being recruited by Reading United of the PDL, who had promised to provide me with a full time coaching role within their youth program, as well as acting as a sponsor for my US work visa. Financially it offered a better opportunity for me and a guarantee to be able to stay in the States. I came up to play for Reading at the start of 2008 and have just finished my fourth season with them. In the off season, I coach full time within the youth teams for the club, running programs for teams from U8-U18 on both the boys and girls side."

What type of standard is should we expect in the fourth division of American 'soccer'?

Ged: "The fourth tier is actually a very good level. The PDL stands for the Premier Developmental League and is designed as a stepping stone for a young players to move on to the MLS and professionally abroad. In the 2011 MLS Superdraft Reading United had 5 players picked by MLS clubs in the top 40.
 
Zerek Valentin – Chivas USA (drafted #4)
CJ Sapong – Sporting Kansas City (drafted #10)
Cory Hertzog - New York red Bulls (drafted #14)
Levi Heapou –Philadlephia Union – (drafted #38)
Alex Dixon – Houston Dyanmo – (supplement draft)

Out of the draft, around 90% of players picked had previously played PDL. At 28, I am one of the older players in the league, but enjoy helping develop some of the younger college players and push them on the next level. At Reading United we recruit heavily from some of the top college players in the country and have recently formed an affiliation with the Philadelphia Union of the MLS. We now act as their Minor League team and this allows us to attract some of the top young American prospects to our team each season, to put them in the shop window."

Can the Americans understand a Mackem accent?

Ged: "In a  word…. No. It's been six years now since I first came to America and I have had to slow down the speed of which I talk drastically. When I first came out I would need to have the same conversation with people three times over before they could understand me, and I got used to the blank expression I'd get when talking to people. It's better now, but with coaching the kids some of them still struggle to understand certain things. A lot of the Americans confuse the North East accent with a Scottish one… I quickly correct them. Unfortunately, I now get ribbed from my mates at home when I come back for visits for sounding like a "Yank"… I still don’t think I’ve lost the accent though!!"

Do Sunderland have much of a following over there?

Ged: "Unfortunately not. I have been working on converting some of the Americans and have started to see some Sunderland kits in being worn on the kids I coach, but most of the kids follow the traditionally bigger clubs, Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. I’d love for Sunderland to do another pre-season tour out here so we could start promoting them to the Americans."

Your coach is Irish, and we have quite a reputation in Ireland, does he have any Sunderland affiliation?

Ged: "The coach, Brendan Burke, is actually an American guy from Boston but he did have a spell playing at Sligo Rovers in Ireland. He is actually a very young coach (28 years old) who is now one of the assistant coaches with the Phialdlephia Union MLS team, as well as coaching the Reading United Minor league team. He has also just completed his fourth season with the team as a coach (he played the previous two seasons before taking over). I’ve been very impressed with him as a young coach, and have learned a lot from him in this respect
 
Our captain last season was an Irish guy called Stephen Hogan. His uncle is one of the scouts at Sunderland and he actually arranged a meeting for myself with him a couple of Christmases back to see if we could try and send over some of the top American players over. Unfortunately, after discussing with Ged McNamee (Sunderland Academy Director) we found that it is difficult for Americans to be approved for work permits unless they play at the national level. We have kept the link open in case we come across any top prospects who have European passports, so I’m always on the lookout for a player who may be at the level to make it at Sunderland."

Who are the most supported English clubs out there?

Ged: "As above, the Americans like to support the traditionally successful teams such as Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal."

Is the Premier League popular, or do people prefer to stick to the MLS?

Ged: "The Premier League is huge over here. More so than the MLS, although the MLS is definitely growing in popularity. The coverage of the Premier League is great though. They have a TV Channel called Fox Soccer Channel, which is dedicated to coverage of football from around the world. On Saturdays, they show four Premier League games in full and two on a Sunday. Most Americans will have an English Premier League team that they support, as well as an American MLS team. I’ve adopted the Philadelphia Union as my MLS, team but still very much class myself as red and white through and through."

Has the influx of Premier League players, such as Henry, Keane and Huckerby raised the profile of soccer in a country where it is generally the fourth sport?

Ged: "The influx of these players has definitely had a positive impact on the sport out here. I know I just mentioned the impressive coverage of the game out here in the previous question, but this was not the case when I arrived in America  six years ago. There was minimal coverage and I would be forced to stream games on the net. Soccer is growing at an impressive rate out here, and the popularity and attendance at MLS games is growing massively. Many teams now have great average attendances. The Seattle Sounders have 36,000 week-in, week-out, and the atmosphere at certain MLS games reminds you of the old school European atmospheres before the terraces were taken away. I don’t think soccer in America will ever take over from the American football or baseball that the Americans love, but it is definitely going in the right direction in the popularity stakes."

Do you have any aspirations to play anywhere else in the world?

Ged: "I grew up playing for the Sunderland Academy and was there from age 9-16. I would have loved to have played through and been offered a contract, but funilly enough it was Ged McNamee who cut me when I was 16 for being too small. Ged was my coach at the time and at 16 I was one of the smallest players in our group, I didn’t have my growth spurt until I was 17 or 18 and am now about 6 ft 3 and playing centre half.

If I was younger, I would have loved to have given it another shot playing back in England to see what level I could play at, but  I’m now pretty content with the role I have with Reading United. I switched my aspirations to the coaching of football while still playing at a good level in the PDL. I’ve been working my way through the American coaching qualifications, and would love eventually to get some of the UEFA badges. My ideal coaching role would actually be to work my way back to England once my playing days are done, and see if I can get a role within the Sunderland Academy. Helping to find and produce the next Jordan Henderson would be great!"

Who, in the Sunderland squad, would you compare yourself to the most?

Ged: "I think I’m a little bit of a mix of Lee Catermole and John O'Shea. The strength of my game is my ball winning and tackling like Cattermole. As a center half, I like the way O'Shea plays, although I know he has been thrown out to right back for games this season. O'Shea has a sense of confidence and calm on the ball which comes from his experience with Manchester United, and I would like to think I have similar qualities playing with Reading United and being one of the old boys on the team. It seems weird refereeing to myself as the old boy at only 28 when you have players like Ryan Giggs playing in the Premier League at 37, but that’s the reality of it in the PDL league.

And finally, your teammate at Reading United, Evans Frimpong, is he any relation to Arsenal's new star?

Ged: "It's funny you ask that, as that was the first thing I asked Evans when Frimpong came on the scene at Arsenal. He isn’t a relation, but Evans is also a quality player who I have no doubt will move on into the professional game, whether it be in America or overseas. Evans was one of two Ghanaian boys we had on the Reading United team this year. Both players were quality. The other was a boy called Stephen Okai who played centre midfield. He is a great player who is sparking a lot of interest with the top American teams. Both Evans and Stephen had soft spots for Sunderland last year with the Ghana connection of Gyan, Mennsah and Muntari that we had. Obviously they have all now moved on, but I know they still keep an eye on our results because of that link."

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And with that, I'd like to thank Ged for making the time to speak to us. You can follow his team, Reading United, by following this link. We at Roker Report would like to wish him all the best for the future, and will keep in touch with him to find out if any up-and-coming American talent will be winging its way over to the Academy of Light in the future. You never know, we might end up with the new Freddy Adu, only good.

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