From Dundee to Vancouver to Lisbon: Ryan Gauld’s long road to MLS success | Vancouver Whitecaps

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NOT10 years on from his professional debut and more than 4,000 miles from home, the man once dubbed the ‘Scottish Messi’ and who sparked interest as a teenager from Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool has finally , in Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps have found a home where they can realize their vast potential.

Now 26, Ryan Gauld has come a long way in his career – both in terms of distance covered and experiences recorded – as he prepares for the start of the new MLS season, which begins on Saturday. He was once the 17-year-old star of a dynamic young Dundee United side, before a seven-year stint in Portugal brought him mixed fortunes.

He left Portugal as a free agent last summer and hasn’t been short of offers.

“I’ve never been one to make my decisions based on money,” Gauld told the gathered media of his move to Canada. “There is more to a career and more to life than money. The Whitecaps were the first club to reach out to me and let me know how much I was wanted, what they thought I could bring to the club.

Gauld may be overstating the poverty of an MLS career a bit – his contract last season was worth around $2 million. But his decision to avoid proposals closer to home in favor of North America was justified on the ground. With four goals – the last of which came as Vancouver secured a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season – and five assists to his name last season, he was one of the best players of the league after his arrival.

And it’s no surprise to those who worked with Gauld that he once again proved his willingness to travel the world. After all, he has traveled in search of challenges throughout his career.

Gauld was around 10 when he was first spotted by Dundee United scout Alex Robertson. The midfielder – who has since risen to the not so exhilarating height of 5ft 6in – had traveled from his home in Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire, to play a sevens tournament in Dundee with his core team Brechin City Boys Club.

“Wee Ryan was beating everyone,” Robertson recalled. “He was all left-footed, but he was flaying people, taking them on and beating them all. Often when you see people with a lot of abilities, they tend to be lazy. They lose the ball, they stop and they do nothing. If Ryan lost the ball, he would pop up like a yoyo and chase the person to get it back. You had to be blind not to see that he was different. I spent the next 15 years looking and couldn’t find anyone as good.

He was quickly signed by United – along with teammates Harry and John Souttar, now from Stoke City and Hearts, respectively, and whose father managed the team. So began a 70 mile three times a week round trip to Dundee.

The boys signed up for the Cathro Clinic, the skills school of former Tottenham manager Ian Cathro. The sessions would take place from 4.30pm to 6pm on the artificial turf pitch at Gussie Park, in the shadow of Tannadice, United’s home stadium. Then, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., they trained with the professional club’s youth training. Gauld quickly rose through the elite group at the Cathro Clinic and made an indelible impression on his coaches.

“I looked and the ball came through the air,” Steven Leahy, who coached Gauld, recalled of one particularly dramatic moment produced by the young midfielder. “You think, ‘Take a dab, little man.’ And he doesn’t. He rotated his body and did an overhead kick, which was just ridiculous.

“I remember Ian stopping the session and asking everyone – we had maybe 50 or 60 kids – to give him a round of applause.”

Aged 17, Gauld was the focal point of a dynamic Dundee United squad that also included future Liverpool full-back Andrew Robertson and Southampton midfielder Stuart Armstrong.

“You could always see he had a special talent,” says Jackie McNamara, the manager under whom Gauld established himself as a first-team star at Tannadice. “He had a great little footballing brain.

“There were times in training where you would just sit and laugh. I remember a match against Celtic, a semi-final. He set up the equalizer for Gary Mackay-Steven. Just his decision-making and passing weight, that was the greatest thing about him as a kid. He was a little genius when I worked with him. I loved watching him play. »

Interest from some of England’s biggest clubs grew rapidly, but Gauld intended to move to the continent.

“I think he’s always been different,” McNamara says. “He saw himself as more European [in style] than the bustle of England.

Of all the European clubs chasing Gauld after his brilliant 2013-14 campaign – in which Dundee United finished fourth in the Scottish Premiership and reached the Scottish Cup final – Sporting were the most insistent.

“They had done their due diligence on him,” McNamara says. “It was the owner who wanted Ryan. Word got back to me that he loved him, had watched all his clips from his time at Dundee United.

Aged just 18, Gauld signed for Sporting in a £3million deal. A sign of the youngster’s potential, a €60m release clause has been inserted into his contract. He has made just five first-team appearances in as many years for the Lisbon giants, all in his debut season in Portugal. A succession of loans – including a return to Scotland with Hibernian in 2018-19 – bore little fruit and his once-promising career began to stall.

Yet he had embraced life in Portugal. He became fluent in Portuguese and still speaks the language with Cathro, his multilingual mentor. Leaving Sporting in 2019, Gauld opted to stay in Portugal, stepping down a level to join Farense.

In his first season with the Algarve club, he scored a career-high nine league goals to send them back to the Primeira Division. And last season, despite Farense’s relegation, he still scored nine times and recorded seven assists, making him one of only three Primeira Liga players to make the top 10 in both categories.

Farense first challenged Gauld’s free agent status last summer. They believed they had the contractual right to extend his contract for a further year, but he countered that the club’s relegation overruled that clause. Finally free to join the club of his choice, Gauld went with whoever wanted him most, with Vancouver having chased him since the previous January.

The Whitecaps had won just three of their 16 matches in the 2021 season before Gauld’s arrival. After his debut, they became one of the form teams in MLS. Gauld’s performances proved a catalyst for their playoff hopes, although he could not prevent an eventual first-round exit at the hands of Sporting Kansas City.

He’s come a long way to get here – literally and metaphorically – but Gauld is finally thriving. And there’s more to come – whether it’s more MLS stardom, a possible return to Europe or a late start in Scotland.

“It took him a little longer than I thought it would to shine,” McNamara said. “But he is still young. He will have learned a lot in recent years. His football has never been in question.

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