Scott Arfield: Former Rangers’ star enjoys being out of the “goldfish bowl” at Charlotte


Interview 

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Scott Arfield was all smiles as he spoke to the media following Charlotte FC’s 1-1 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place on Saturday. After coming on late in the second half in the season opener against New York City FC last weekend to secure a 1-0 win, Arfield once again came off the bench, this time to secure one point. With four points in the bag, Arfield took the time to chat about new head coach Dean Smith, his decision to join Charlotte, the differences between Major League Soccer and the Scottish Premiership, and living in a goldfish bowl while playing for Rangers. 

Indeed, four points from the first two games, which included a difficult coast-to-coast away trip, constitute a strong start for Charlotte to the 2024 MLS season. Even though Arfield represented Canada, the 35-year-old quickly highlighted the travel as the most significant difference between Scotland and MLS. “It is very different to what I am used to,” Arfield said pointing out that playing for Canada somewhat helped him prepare for that experience. “It wasn’t anything that’s new. Just once you are in it, you understand how difficult it is to recover. This was one of the most intense [away trips]. Obviously, tomorrow morning, early doors, and then be ready for next week.”

Travel isn’t the only thing that makes MLS a different experience than playing in England or Scotland. “I think, think the athleticism of the league, the pace of the game,” Arfield said. “It is a game of basketball at times. You need to be as fit as possible to play in this league. I think it is a game of transitions. In this league, whereas predominantly in England, where I was for nearly ten years, it was more about keeping the ball in tight when in possession. It’s a bit different over here.” 

Scott Arfield: “Was energized” to join Major League Soccer

Arfield knows what he is talking about. The 19-times Canadian men’s national team player (2 goals) has played 234 games (41 goals and 21 assists) for Rangers and Falkirk in the Scottish Premiership, 112 games for Burnley and Huddersfield in the Championship (17 goals and nine assists), and 86 games for Burnley in the Premier League (5 goals and three assists). Despite all that experience in England and Scotland while also playing for Canada, Arfield was surprised by the athleticism in MLS.

Scott Arfield played the majority of his 234 Premiership games with Scottish giants Rangers

Scott Arfield played the majority of his 234 Premiership games with Scottish giants Rangers

“Everybody is in top condition,” Arfield said when asked what surprised him the most about the transition to MLS. What else surprised Arfield about the MLS? “When I speak to people back home, they probably don’t think that this is a technical league, and they would be extremely disappointed if they came in this league thinking it is going to be easy because the athleticism, the pace of the game, everyone is an absolute physical specimen. And the quality of the players is getting better.” 

The growth in quality and the physicality of the game in MLS made Arfield wonder whether he had missed the right opportunity to come to America. “I was always enthusiastic and energized about coming out here,” Arfield said when asked what influenced his decision to go to MLS. “But as I got older, you certainly think that that scenario may have passed but I was delighted when I got the opportunity to come here and have moved over with my wife and kids.” 

Scott Arfield: MLS an “intriguing division” for Scottish players

Indeed, Arfield admits that he has talked to other players back in Scotland, who are curious about moving to MLS. “It’s an intriguing division,” Arfield said. “It’s an intriguing place to live and to play.” Having Lionel Messi has also grown the league’s profile abroad. “That has worked out pretty well for many players,” Arfield said but also quickly pointing out that MLS is much more than just Messi. “I think that the league is so much, so much more than people give it credit for. I think once you watch it and once you play in it, you realize so how often athletic and difficult it is, I think players come over and think you’re going to have an easier time. I think that would surprise those players.”

Messi, Almada, Torres & Co.: The most valuable MLS players

20. Pedro de la Vega | Seattle Sounders | Market value: €6.5m

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19. Ryan Gauld | Vancouver Whitecaps | Market value: €7m

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18. Diego Rossi | Columbus Crew | Market value: €7m

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17. Alan Velasco | FC Dallas | Market value: €7m

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16. Luciano Acosta | FC Cincinnati | Market value: €8m

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15. Dániel Gazdag | Philadelphia Union | Market value: €8m

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14. Petar Musa | FC Dallas | Market value: €8m

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13. Evander | Portland Timbers | Market value: €8m

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12. Jesús Ferreira | FC Dallas | Market value: €9m

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11. Denis Bouanga | LAFC | Market value: €10m

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10. Talles Magno | NYCFC | Market value: €10m

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9. Hugo Cuypers | Chicago Fire | Market value: €11m

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8. Joseph Paintsil | LA Galaxy | Market value: €11m

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7. Hany Mukhtar | Nashville SC | Market value: €12m

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6. Riqui Puig | LA Galaxy | Market value: €12m

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5. Sebastián Driussi | Austin FC | Market value: €12m

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4. Cucho Hernández | Columbus Crew | Market value: €13m

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3. Facundo Torres | Orlando City | Market value: €14m

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2. Thiago Almada | Atlanta United | Market value: €27m

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1. Lionel Messi | Inter Miami CF | Market value: €35m

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Another aspect Arfield enjoys is being out of the spotlight. MLS players don’t enjoy the same cult following as NFL, NBA, or MLB players in the United States or hockey players in Canada. And Arfield loves it. “It is so lovely at times,” Arfield said whether he enjoyed being out of the Ranger’s goldfish bowl. “I went back to Scotland for Christmas, and it was straight back in it, albeit I am now out of the goldfish bowl. But you still get recognized in certain parts. It has been nice, even if you miss [the attention] here a little bit. The flipside is, I have completely relaxed in Charlotte, and you don’t look over your shoulders as much.”  

Although Arfield absolutely enjoys his move to the United States off the field. It wasn’t like he had taken the league by storm on the field. Since joining Charlotte last summer, Arfield has made 21 appearances but has only played the full 90 minutes once in a 2-2 draw against Cincinnati last season. This season, Arfield came off the bench against NYCFC and the Whitecaps. “Definitely,” Arfield said when asked whether he still sees himself as a starter. But at the same time, he recognized that with age his role is now changing a bit. “Sometimes you know your age will go before you; that’s just something that happens. So, it’s up to you to sort of change that narrative. But you know, even at Rangers at the back end, I was stuck on the bench, and you see the difference and learn how important it is to finish games and come on.”

Scottish players with most games in MLS

Scott Arfield “definitely” still feels he is a starter at Charlotte

That is the flipside of the story. Although Arfield isn’t an automatic starter anymore, manager Smith does press him into high-pressure situations. On matchday 1, Arfield came on to help his side secure a win over Man City’s sister club NYCFC. On Saturday, the Whitecaps were pressing for a winner when Arfield came on, and the former Ranger brought the needed stability in midfield to see the game out and secure a much-needed away point. 

Also, there is a strong trust in the new manager, Smith. Smith arrived in December to replace former manager Christian Lattanzio. Going into their third season, Charlotte want to bring in a more stable product finally, and although Smith failed to keep up Leicester last season, Arfield credits the 52-year-old for what has been a solid start to the season. “I think it’s sort of simplified it,” Arfield said. “And I think sometimes when people simplify, it’s the most underrated thing because if you strip it all back, simplicity is sometimes what you’re at times. I think he’s done that.”

After reaching the MLS Cup Wild Card round last year, Arfield and Charlotte hope to build on that success under Smith this season by playing a more prominent role in the Eastern Conference. Arfield, in the meantime, wants to significantly improve his playing time and influence while also taking in the North American experience in what is likely the final chapter of his career.


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