There was never any reason for Richie Ryan to become a villain.
The captain of the NASL’s 2015 Cinderella story, Ottawa Fury, Ryan was one of countless players to leave Ottawa Fury after the departure of head coach Marc Dos Santos. Having been named to the league’s Best XI for last season, Ryan landed with Jacksonville Armada, joining up with other marquee additions like striker Matt Fondy and head coach Tony Meola to try and bring a winner to Jacksonville.
Ryan kept his head down and started work two days later, leading Miami to a three-match unbeaten streak before losing the Spring finale at Minnesota.
On May 12 I broke a story for FiftyFive.One announcing Ryan was sold to Miami FC for a $750,000 transfer fee after he signed a two-and-a-half year deal to keep him in Miami until the end of 2018. Suddenly, Ryan was the poster child for overly-lavish spending and NASL overreach. People started asking why a central midfielder at age 31 was worth a league transfer record. Serving as the captain at all three NASL clubs whose kit he’s donned, Ryan kept his head down and started work two days later, leading Miami to a three-match unbeaten streak before losing the Spring finale at Minnesota. In the week leading up to the match, I sat down with him at the team’s downtown Minneapolis hotel to talk through his first three years in NASL.
You joined Ottawa Fury before the 2014 season after a successful career in Ireland and Scotland among other countries. Considering they were an expansion side and you were in your prime, why did you want to join?
RR: I think it was a chance to test myself in a new area. I was just wanting a new challenge with the game, and it was an opportunity for me that arose. It was exciting to be a part of it after finding a rhythm with Ireland and Scotland.
You found some success with Ottawa, ultimately leading the club to Soccer Bowl in 2015. First off, that Fall Season was such a far cry from the Spring for Ottawa. What changed in the locker room to lead to that level of success?
RR: Not a great deal, to be honest. Coming toward the end of the Spring we found a rhythm and started the Fall with five clean sheets coming out of the bounce. We knew we needed to start finding some goals to get results and once the Fall was rolling we took our chances. We went from strength-to-strength and ended up hitting a ridiculous run of form down the stretch and put ourselves into Soccer Bowl.
In many ways, that was one of the best Soccer Bowls the league has seen thus far.
RR: Well, for some people. [laughing] Not all of us.
Minnesotans can certainly relate to that feeling. It looked like Ottawa was building some momentum and then it all fell apart during the offseason. A lot has been made about marquee departures like yours from the Fury. Can you talk us through why the team didn’t stick together for another run?
RR: You know, football is a funny game. People come and go from clubs, and when all of the players who had been there from the start hear that their manager will be leaving six or seven weeks before the end of the season, you start to wonder where the club is going. I think that was probably the biggest part of why people started to go their separate ways. Paul [Dalglish] was announced to be coming in, and he brings his own brand of football and he wanted to bring in his own players as well.
You’ve had continued success since you left, but for other former Fury players like Ryan Richter, Tom Heinemann, and Sinisa Ubiparipovic who left, it’s been a mixed bag of results. What is it about Dos Santos that works so well to get everyone on the same page?
In a football aspect, [Marc dos Santos] was very detailed in everything that he did. Every training session was detailed down to a “T.”
RR: I could probably keep you here for a couple hours on that one. There are so many good things about him as a manager. I think the big thing, to me, is that he treated everybody the same. He always made time for you as a player and as a person. He knew how to manage his players. In a football aspect, he was very detailed in everything that he did. Every training session was detailed down to a “T” like I can’t describe. He had a remarkable understanding of the team that we were going to face on the weekend, as well. So that was a massive help to us.
A lot of clubs described us as a defensive club, that we were defensive-minded. At the end of the day, football is all about winning. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5-0 or 1-0, but you try to win. I’m sure that teams were frustrated that they couldn’t get results on us and that’s why they came down on us as a defense-first team, but we were beating teams week-in and week-out and that’s what matters.
Ottawa was your first NASL club. Then you had a six-game stint with Jacksonville before going to Miami. You’ve been the captain of three clubs in the league over an eight-month window. Has that kind of continued faith had an impact on your play?
RR: To be honest with you, it hasn’t had much of an impact. I think whether I have the armband or not doesn’t affect me. I’ll still do the same things on and off the field. When I’m on the field, I like to talk a lot and get my team on the same page as quickly as possible. I think that’s part of the reason that the likes of Marc Dos Santos made me captain. I’m not out for screaming and shouting, but I want to help my team on the field. I wouldn’t say it affects me, captain or not-captain, but I’ll do the same things either way.
I found out about it all on the Wednesday night, and by noon on Thursday I was at the club offices in Miami.
Can you walk us through that 24 or 48-hour window in May that saw you leave Jacksonville for Miami? What was going through your head as this all played out?
RR: It wasn’t even 24 hours to be honest with you. I found out about it all on the Wednesday night, and by noon on Thursday I was at the club offices in Miami. It was eventful. It happened really quick and, obviously, was something that I’m very happy to have had happen to me and my family. It’s a great opportunity for us to move down to Miami and experience a new challenge with an ambitious club.
What other factors played into this? There’s the motivation of the club, but what else?
RR: Well, I respect the vision of the club. I spoke with them on Thursday after Jacksonville had given me permission to do so, and I could tell by the way that they spoke that they weren’t happy with how they had started the Spring Season. They wanted to improve and they wanted me to be a big part of it. When you’re wanted by somebody, it gives you that extra incentive to join them, and that was a big plus for me.
Any goals for the rest of this season?
RR: I want to win on Saturday night at Minnesota first. We win on Saturday night and then we set targets moving ahead to the fall. With Ottawa, we were in a very similar situation at the end of the Spring as far as where we were on the table. We had 8, 9 points. We built on a few clean-sheets and away we went. It was a league where anybody can win on any given day, like we see week-in and week-out. We just need to get some points on the board.
You’re 31 years old. You’ve got a contract running through the end of 2018 and a comfortable situation set up. Do you see yourself retiring in Miami or the NASL in general?
RR: Football is funny–you never really know what’s going to happen. I’d like to think that I’ll be here for the next two-and-a-half years and maybe longer after that, but that takes me to 34 years of age. At that age, you sadly do start thinking about hanging up your boots. I’d like to think I’ll hang my boots up on the American side of the water.
Special thanks to Krissty Andaur, Miami FC’s Head of PR and Media, for setting up the interview.