February 06, 2017
It was technical director Chris Albright who made first contact with Jay Simpson.
The ex-Union defender traveled to east London to scout the 28-year-old journeyman striker, a player coming off a 25-goal season for League Two Leyton Orient.
A few weeks later, Simpson was on the move again, this time putting pen to paper on a Major League Soccer contract.
"The passion (Chris) had for the project and the club, and the desire of what they wanted to achieve really appealed to me," Simpson said on Monday afternoon. "He invited me over to see the facilities and the city and I loved it. I loved it at first sight. I was excited to come over and I'm grateful for the opportunity."
Simpson spoke to reporters for the first time via conference call, three days after joining the team at training camp in Clearwater, Florida.
He's a former Arsenal youth product with a decade of experience playing in the English Championship, League One, and League Two. In 2008, he spent a half-season in the Premier League with West Bromwich Albion.
"I only came in on Friday, but the short time I've been here, I've gotta say that the dressing room that they have here is very impressive," Simpson said. "It's rare when you go into a place and everyone is so welcoming towards you. It's a great bunch of boys and everyone gets on really well together. It's kind of like one Union. From my early impressions, it's like a family. I know they've put a lot of work into setting up a good locker room. I'm hoping I'll be able to settle in pretty quickly and contribute to that was well. But the boys have been brilliant with me so far. They seem like a really honest bunch of lads. They've helped me a lot already."
Foreign players often speak of the lengthy travel and varying climates as the two hardest adjustments to make when coming to MLS. Simpson says he spoke with Orient teammate Jobi McAnuff, a longtime Jamaican international, about Major League Soccer and the challenges of playing in North America.
It's also a change in quality and style. Simpson has played his entire career in England, save for one season in Thailand with Buriram United. In no way is MLS on par with the Premier League, but it's comparable to the Championship and certainly a step up from the third and fourth divisions.
"In England, it's very physical and direct," Simpson said. "In League Two, a lot of teams are traditional English teams, where you try to go forward fast. We have an English saying: 'you've got to win the battle before you can play.' But, yeah, it's very physical. Looking at MLS, I was excited to come over here because I think here they try to keep the ball on the ground and the games I've watched look very tactical and the players have good technique. I'm looking forward to getting started over here."
A lot will be asked of Simpson in the Union's 4-2-3-1 formation.
Last year, C.J. Sapong played well with his back to goal, holding the ball for his teammates and doing thankless dirty work against two center backs. Only five MLS players suffered more fouls than Sapong, who was clobbered, chopped down, or tripped up on 71 different occasions. He started the season well, then struggled down the stretch, finishing with nine goals.
Simpson will be tasked with target man duties while also getting on the scoresheet.
"Most of my career I've played one up front as a striker," Simpson explained. "I've played with two, I've played as a ten, and I've played left wing and right wing. Coming in here, when I spoke to Chris on the phone, he explained to me about the formation that they like to play, the 4-2-3-1, and he told me what they expect from their striker up top, the number nine. With regards to the formation, I'm happy to play in any system that benefits the team. I'm over here now and I'm going to get a chance to work on the shape and get a feel for it. It's a system I've played before, not so often, but I've played it before and it's the way the Union play. They made the playoffs last year so I'm excited to come in and try to fight for my place."