Gary Mackay-Steven: Former Aberdeen & Celtic winger on life in New York

Mackay-Steven scored his first New York City goal on 1 September
Mackay-Steven scored his first New York City goal on 1 September

A couple of years on from infamously falling into a Glasgow river, Gary Mackay-Steven is now making a splash across the pond.

The winger wasn't angling for a move from Aberdeen, where he had successfully relaunched his career after it went stagnant at Celtic, but the chance to take a bite out of the Big Apple proved too tempting to resist.

And Mackay-Steven, 29, admits he has "to pinch myself" as he finds himself living the dream in one of the world's most vibrant cities, playing for New York City out of the iconic Yankees Stadium.

Here he tells BBC Scotland about seeing the sights, gasping for breath on marathon away trips, and a possible play-off meeting with a certain over-confident Swede.

'A hectic, surreal way of life'

From being treated for hypothermia after his plunge into Glasgow's freezing River Kelvin on a night out gone awry, Mackay-Steven now has stunning views of New York's main waterway from his apartment.

The breakneck speed of New York daily life is quite the culture shock from growing up in Thurso in Scotland's Highlands. The hustle and bustle of Aberdeen's Union Street and Glasgow's Sauchiehall street have nothing on the 24-hour buzz of Times Square.

Mackay-Steven has immersed himself in the sights and sounds of the city that never sleeps. "My apartment is just north of Manhattan, basically where the George Washington Bridge is," he said. "It looks down on to the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline. It's an amazing spot.

"The city is 10 minutes away by subway. I'd been to New York a couple of times before. You see all the sights and go shopping. I loved it, and to be here now, I have to pinch myself. It's quite surreal.

"On days off I've been into the city, done stuff I hadn't done before, like taking a boat round Manhattan, seeing the skyline. I've been to a baseball game at Yankees Stadium, which we share with the New York Yankees.

"I'm especially excited to go to the basketball - their season begins in October - and the NFL, which has just started. There's a Chris Brown concert as well coming up at the Barclays Center, I'm going to that.

"It's a different way of life. It's hectic, a million miles per hour, I'm loving it. There's always something to do and somewhere to be."

Yankees Stadium is home to New York City FC and baseball team New York Yankees
Yankees Stadium is home to New York City FC and baseball team New York Yankees

Travel, times zones and playing at altitude

Life on the pitch is going well too, with Mackay-Steven scoring his first goal for New York City in the 3-1 win at Vancouver Whitecaps on 1 September.

He has also contributed an assist in his 11 appearances and believes he is hitting peak condition at the right time after arriving mid-campaign in late June without a pre-season under his belt.

"I feel a lot better now than when I arrived," the former Dundee United player said. "Even in training, I was doing a session and then coming home and just sleeping because I was shattered.

"October is the play-offs, which is the most important time of the year, so as long as you're playing your best stuff by then, that's the main thing."

The travelling - and challenges it brings - has been an eye-opener. The three-hour trip to the central belt he was used to in his Aberdeen days for away games is a walk in Central Park compared to his MLS itinerary.

"For the recent game at Vancouver, it was a trip right across the country to the west coast and we were away four days," he said.

"And a few weeks ago we played in Colorado, which is really high above sea level. So the altitude makes it hard to catch your breath and get a second wind because the air is a lot thinner.

"We spend a lot of time in these places so you're seeing more than just the hotel. In the afternoons it's free time and you can go out and explore. It's great, you're seeing a lot of places and they're all so different.

"Even the weather - it can be so hot and then you travel six hours on a plane through two different time zones and the weather in the place you arrive is completely different."

Bring on Zlatan

New York City are jostling for top spot in the Eastern Conference and secured their play-off berth with seven games to spare.

Now Macaky-Steven is hoping to be put on collision course with an LA Galaxy side spearheaded by 37-year-old Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

"There's every chance we could meet Zlatan's team in the play-offs, which would be cool," he said. "Zlatan is a big player over here, still doing things at his age and showing class is permanent. It brings that sprinkling of stardust."

Helping his club claim a first MLS title in just their fifth season in the league would also bolster Mackay-Steven's prospects of adding to his two Scotland caps, the last of which came in October 2018.

"It's an amazing honour to play for Scotland and I hope to win more caps," he said. "I want to show how good a player I am over here first and foremost."

Ibrahimovic is in his second season in the MLS with LA Galaxy
Ibrahimovic is in his second season in the MLS with LA Galaxy

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