FC Edmonton forward Daryl Fordyce remembers one of his first road games after he made the move from Northern Ireland to the NASL.
It was a road date in Fort Lauderdale.
“Once you go down to Florida and the hot places, you have to get acclimatized,” said Fordyce. “My first game down in Fort Lauderdale it was 23 degrees (Celsius), and I though it was really hot and the guys were saying that this is mild.”
And that’s the thing for a lot of players coming over from European leagues; playing games in the summer, in hot, humid climates, is something they don’t do often — or at all. What would be considered a temperate day in Florida was sweltering to someone coming over from Northern Ireland.
“And, then, you go down to San Antonio a few months later and it’s 32 degrees,” said Fordyce. “It’s about adjusting to the different climates and the games, obviously, are a little bit slower, you can’t go 100 miles per hour for 90 minutes. As for back in Britain, it’s a colder country, it’s a bit like us (Edmonton) at home. It’s cooler and you can be aggressive for longer times in the game. But whenever you go away, the heat saps your energy a little bit quicker.”
Heat. Many hours in the air and in airports. Moving from pristine grass pitches to new artificial turf to old artificial turf to grass pitches you’d wish would be replaced with artificial turf. That’s the North American soccer experience. And, for players coming from abroad, it requires a massive change in perspective.
You can go from Edmonton’s cooler climate to sweltering conditions in the American Deep South. That’s an awfully hard adjustment to make for players who come from countries where a long road trip is a bus ride that takes a couple of hours.
Adam Eckersley’s brother, Richard, played in MLS with both Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls. So, the Eddies’ new English signing should be well aware of the challenges playing in North America will provide.
“If we were to very well this year, maybe even win the league, I think it would be my biggest achievement in football, because of the conditions, because we’re going from Astroturf to grass pitches, cold climate to warm climate,” says Adam, who made the move from Scottish side, Hibernian, to the Eddies. “The changes are, well, you’re not just playing a football match, you’re playing also the conditions as well.
“It’s going to be very, very challenging to go to these places and get results, but the squad is up for the challenge. We have a great team here and I hope we go and do it.”
But, for Eckersley, climate and travel are secondary when compared to his largest sacrifice — being far away from his family.
“For a player coming from Europe, especially someone like me, it’s leaving all my family behind. That was my biggest challenge. Making a 16-hour journey across the water. I’ve lived abroad before but, in Europe, and my family could have been with me in a couple of hours by plane. It’s a bit of a different story here. My mom and my dad have got to take a couple of weeks off work to come across here. That’s the biggest change for me.”
For the Eddies, though, things will be more even this season, in terms of travel, at least. Traditionally, FCE started out on an extended road trip, as there was fear over home game in April being hit with cold weather. Heck, an Amway Canadian Championship game — in May — was snowed out last year. But, this year, the Eddies will play a balanced early-season schedule, and will have their home opener in the second weekend of the spring campaign.
The league has addressed what was an imbalance. It wasn’t fair that the Eddies didn’t play more home games in cold weather, when the teams from the American south got plenty home dates in the height of summer. It wasn’t competitive that the warm-weather teams got to use their weather advantages, while the cold-weather teams didn’t.
So, the Eddies will still have to deal with extreme heat when the team goes on the road in the summer, but at least there will be a few more cool-temperature home games in the early spring and late autumn.