Jay Simpson is in love.
“Chris Albright invited me over to see the facilities and the city and I loved it,” said Simpson, who was wooed by the Union technical director. “I loved it at first sight. I’m excited to come over, grateful for the opportunity.”
Signed in early January, the 28-year-old Union forward just recently met up with his new club at its preseason facility in Clearwater, Florida, after spending three years with Leyton Orient of England’s League Two.
So far, the impression has been good.
“I’ve got to say that the dressing room that they have here is very impressive,” he said. “It’s rare when you’re going into a place where everyone is so welcoming toward you. It’s a great bunch of boys here and everyone gets on really well here together. It’s kind of like one unit, and from my early impressions like a family.”
Despite Simpson’s optimism, significant playing time isn’t a given. Although he said he’s played everything from playmaking midfielder to both wings, Simpson, an Arsenal academy product, is expected to be a primary forward in the Union’s typical 4-2-3-1 formation, where he would compete with C.J. Sapong and Charlie Davies for playing time.
“He’s a guy who scored goals everywhere he's been, all stages of his career,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We know if we get service in the box he can finish. Between him, C.J. and Charlie Davies, we have three good forwards that can push each other in the right way. Each has a different skillset. Jay's a guy who, character-wise, fits into the group. I'm really excited to get to work with him.”
Taking a new role as one of the Union's veteran leaders, Sapong also welcomes the challenge.
“We’re in it to win it,” said Sapong, who had seven goals last season. “I want to be on the field, but at the same time, if a player is producing more than I am at that moment, I’m going to back them. I’m going to try to push them in training, making them better and bettering myself for whenever I get that opportunity again.”
Although he wasn’t a lights-out scorer with Leyton Orient, notching 33 goals in 87 games, the Union were attracted to Simpson by his style of play and experience. Union sporting director Earnie Stewart saw a connection between the gritty and physical style of play in England and MLS.
“He played at lower-division teams in England known for scrappy football,” Stewart said. “I think that fits well with what we do here. You need to be an athlete to be in this league; it’s not an easy league to play in. I think that's been shown and proven. We think with the athleticism Jay has and the background he has, he's a good fit for us.”
“In England, it’s very physical and very direct,” he said. “It’s very physical. In MLS, they try to keep the ball on the ground in games that I’ve watched. They’re tactical players with good technique, so I’m looking forward to getting started over here.”