Rob Earnshaw embraces Major League change

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Earnshaw enjoying Toronto adventure

"Any chance of a quick word with Thierry Henry?"

"Just go into the locker room and ask him yourself."

Trust me, this would not have happened at Highbury, or at any other British football ground for that matter, but life in the MLS (Major League Soccer) is different for both players and the media.

Former Arsenal and France striker Henry has just helped his New York Red Bulls side to a 2-1 away win against Toronto FC, setting up both goals for another former Premier League star, Tim Cahill once of Everton, and both are expected to fulfil their media duties.

The locker room is a curious mix of steam, rehydration drinks and camera cables as the Sport Wales team wait patiently for Henry.

When he eventually waltzes in looking as cool as ever, I start by saying that he was the difference between the sides.

Henry's "non" response is so Gallic in its delivery that it feels like a parody, however his whole demeanour lightens when we turn to the opposition number 10.

"He's gonna be vital [for Toronto] this season, he's a great goal scorer, just thankfully he didn't score today," Henry says.

That number 10 is Rob Earnshaw, who arrived two months ago on loan from Cardiff City after the Premier League new boys allowed him to explore other options before his contract ends officially on 1 June.

Earnshaw, standing in front of his own locker at the BMO Field in downtown Toronto, looks understandably more downbeat than his French opponent.

The Wales striker returns the compliment to Henry and agrees with me that his performance was key. However, despite the loss, Earnshaw is happy to be back in action.

"The biggest reason why I came here is to play," said Earnshaw.

Admittedly that sounds like a typical generic answer given by any new signing, however in Earnshaw's case it is true.

Having lived a nomadic existence since first leaving Cardiff in 2004, playing for West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City, Derby County and Nottingham Forest, Earnshaw returned to his hometown club two seasons ago only to fall out of favour with manager Malky Mackay.

"I got really annoyed. When you train well and you feel you've got more to give than you're given, this was not enough for me. I feel like I've got 20-25 goals in me [per season] and that's why I needed to play," Earnshaw said.

The Zambian-born Wales striker admits that missing out on Cardiff's promotion party was hard to take but that a move was necessary if he was to fulfil his potential and

"I'm not 40," he keeps reminding me, as he gives the Sport Wales crew a guided tour around Canada's largest city.

I suggest to him that there is a perception of the MLS being a retirement complex for former stars of European leagues, but a quick look at Toronto's finances suggests that Earnshaw's motivations are genuine.

The 32-year-old is paid a relatively modest annual salary of £100,000 compared to Henry and Robbie Keane at LA Galaxy, who both earn more than £2.5m a year according to the official salary figures that are made public through the Players' Union.

Despite failing to find the net against the Red Bulls, 'Earnie' had a dream start to his Canadian adventure scoring five goals in his first six matches and is making a big impression both on and off the field.

"Everything about Robbie since coming here has been terrific," the club's President and General Manager Kevin Payne tells me.

"He was willing to be flexible and has been so adventurous in embracing things that are different about this league."

And the differences are quite significant. Apart from the increased media demands, the biggest culture shock for the European imports is often the geographical landscape of North American football.

The 5,000-mile return journey that Earnshaw will endure when he visits David Beckham's former club LA Galaxy is further than most Premier League players will travel in a domestic season.

It is not unheard of for an MLS club to clock up 60,000 miles in a campaign and league rules dictate that every single player (including Henry and co) has to fly economy class.

Toronto's training complex is a half-hour taxi journey from Earnshaw's flat in the downtown district of the city, and the facilities are - according to Earnie and his closest friend at the club, Hogan Ephraim (on loan from Queen's Park Rangers) - as good as any in the Premier League.

The jewel in the crown is the undercover pitch which provides shelter from the freezing Canadian winters.

The centre will become dormant over the coming months as the players prepare for dramatic changes in the weather conditions.

The management are already hinting that Earnshaw's trademark back-flip celebrations will be put on hold when they play on the roasting, hard pitches of Houston and the California-based Chivas during the summer months.

Earnshaw's future beyond the summer is unclear. His current deal will come to an end when his Cardiff City contract expires in June.

He concedes that his time with Cardiff is over and Earnshaw is hopeful of remaining with Toronto: "I hope to stay, I'm settled and that's down to the way that the people here make you feel."

It is also a place where you can get away with wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses during a TV Interview I tell him, as I see my own face reflected back at me

"Yeah," he replies. "We're in Toronto! You've got to do it properly!"

Watch the full interview on Sport Wales this Friday on BBC2 Wales at 19:00 BST

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