Midfielder Jonny Steele turns career around in US
Now called up for Northern Ireland
15 November ~ In February 2013, Jonny Steele was considering an offer from Conference side Macclesfield Town having returned to the UK following his release from MLS outfit Real Salt Lake. But before agreeing a deal, Steele received a telephone call in the early hours from New York Red Bull's head coach, Mike Petke, looking for some last-minute squad players ahead of the new MLS season. Steele promptly accepted and left Cheshire for New York. Nine months on, he is set to make his debut for Northern Ireland against Turkey.
After being released by Wolverhampton Wanderers at the age of 18, Steele opted to rebuild his career in the US. An unsuccessful trial with FC Dallas in 2003 led him to indoor soccer, where he turned out for the likes of Kansas City Comets and Baltimore Blast.
After briefly returning to Northern Ireland in 2005 to play for mid-table Ballymena United, Steele made his way back to North America for a second stint, playing in the second tier for clubs such as Carolina RailHawks, Puerto Rico Islanders and the now-defunct Vancouver Whitecaps – as well as another season in the indoor game, this time with the Philadelphia KiXX.
Steele's big chance finally came in the 2012 season after signing for MLS side Real Salt Lake, but was cut short after one season due to the introduction of the league's new salary cap and he was released in December 2012. However, since Petke's late night telephone call, Steele has gone on to enjoy a remarkable debut season for the Red Bulls, becoming an integral first team regular, alongside Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill despite being initially signed as cover.
Shortly after the Red Bulls were narrowly knocked out of the MLS play-offs by Houston Dynamo, Steele learned that he had been named in the Northern Ireland squad for the first time, a remarkable feat that would have been unthinkable at the start of the year. Simon Rowbotham @SiRowbotham