Steven Taylor opens up about his new life away from Newcastle
A 20-minute drive from downtown Portland, Oregon, is Oswego Lake.
Bordered by forests and a city of the same name, the lake’s a popular place, especially during the balmy summer months.
And it’s where Steven Taylor has spent much of his time since joining ambitious Portland Timbers.
Synonymous with Newcastle United, the defender – who signed for the Major League Soccer club in July after leaving his hometown club – already feels at home off the field in the USA.
On the pitch, Taylor is keen to put an injury-ravaged final few seasons at St James’s Park behind him.
The 30-year-old, feeling he needed a fresh start, turned down a new one-year deal at relegated Newcastle July.
Taylor was sifting through offers from clubs in England, Greece, Turkey and Russia when he learnt of interest from Portland 4,600 miles away.
Within hours, he was boarding a flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
“I’d spent all my career at Newcastle and had known nothing else but Newcastle,” said the defender.
“To come out here was something different. There were other clubs. I was very close to going to Turkey. For me, looking at the bigger picture, this was the place for me.
“I got a phone call about 11.30pm on a Friday and by 4am I was at Newcastle Airport to fly to Amsterdam, and I haven’t been back to Newcastle since.
“I took a couple of suitcases out with me and I’ve had everything else sent out.
“This is my new home. I feel good, and I’m playing with a smile on my face.
“My main thing was to play football and enjoy myself. I’m doing that now. I’ve got a new lease of life.”
Year by year, the MLS, founded in 1993, has grown.
New franchises, new stadiums and new fans have lifted attendances and TV viewing figures, as have a number of high-profile European signings, including Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Andrea Pirlo (New York City) and Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC).
Home for Taylor and the Timbers is Providence Park, a 22,000-capacity stadium which hosted a friendly against Newcastle on its artificial pitch last year.
Unlike many MLS grounds, it’s in the heart of a football-obsessed city, much like St James’s Park.
Soccer is kind of a big deal in Portland, which doesn’t have an NFL, NBA or NHL team.
The league, and the lifestyle, proved to be irresistible to Taylor, who was at a crossroads in his career in the summer.
“There are world-class players here like Gerrard, Lampard and (David) Villa,” said Taylor, who scored in a win over rivals Seattle Sounders on his home debut for Portland.
“There are also top-quality South American players. I’m going to be tough.
“It was difficult for the first week to adjust to the weather and training and playing on artificial surfaces.
“It was nice to score on my first home game against Seattle in a derby.
“Beating them was a big thing in Portland. There isn’t a NFL or NBA side. It’s a football city. You see fans wearing the shirt all over the place.
“There’s a big build-up to the games before the singer comes on for the national anthem. We play in massive NFL and baseball stadiums.
“It’s completely different to what I’ve been used to all my career.”
The football itself is more possession-based than in England, but still open.
Teams, keen to entertain, spend the bulk of their money on strikers and midfielders, and the result is high-scoring games.
“There are a lot of turnovers,” said Taylor, who made 268 appearances and scored 15 goals for Newcastle.
“We attack and then they attack. It’s very open.
“There are three or four very good technical players in each side who try to control the game.
“They control the game. You’ve always got to be on your guard. I think of Nolberto Solano and the way he passed the ball. You’ve got a lot of that here.
“They’ll try to control the game with their passing and technical ability.”
The lifestyle – and weather – is different too in trendy Portland, known for its craft beer, foodie culture and bearded hipsters.
“Normally after training we go out on the lake,” said Taylor. “We’re out there most of the day. I’ve never had that.
“There are jet skis and wakeboards. We’re always down there. That’s the lifestyle out here.
“There’s amazing sushi, fresh fish and organic produce.
“I’ve been in shorts and flip flops every day.”
But Taylor, above all else, is enjoying putting his boots on every day.