New midfielder Kyle Scott is preparing for his FC Cincinnati debut. Photo by FC Cincinnati.
A younger version of Kyle Scott would have signed with FC Cincinnati when originally offered a contract following a trial with the team in the preseason. But this spring, the 23-year-old midfielder had other things to consider. With a partner and family back in the U.K., he wasn’t sure he was ready to give up on a chance to stay closer to home.
Scott, then still on contract with Newcastle, was keen on the idea of signing with the MLS side, but decided not to pull the trigger on a move, which also would have meant a significant pay cut. It turned out the timing just wasn’t right.
Five months later, circumstances have changed for both parties. Scott, who was born in Bath, England, to an American mother, is back with FCC. But now he is on a senior roster contract that runs through 2022 and includes two additional option years. He’s got much to prove and an opportunity to do so in an environment where most fans probably don’t know what to expect from him.
Scott participated in his first full training session Wednesday with an eye on a potential debut Saturday against Toronto FC at TQL Stadium. The former Chelsea product and U.S. youth national team player has a renewed sense of hope. It’s been almost a year since he played a competitive match.
“I always knew I liked Cincinnati,” Scott told Queen City Press. “I did like the players, I like the coaches, the facilities and that was second to none. It was like a Premier League team. But yeah, I just felt that at that time it was so quick and so rushed. I wanted to go home and then talk with people and see what else comes because obviously I was still in contract. So, I did have the benefit of the doubt, to go back and stuff.
“It wasn’t over from my side completely. … If it was four or five years ago, I think once I got on that plane I would have just stayed straight away. Obviously with age and a partner and family and stuff, it changes. I always had the hope that they might come back.”
Scott said he watched every single game of FC Cincinnati’s season after returning from his trial, pulling up a live stream at 1 a.m. on Saturday nights in England even while it seemed the club had moved on and he was looking elsewhere.
After Newcastle let him go in June, Scott drew interest from lower-level clubs where he was told he would be given first-team minutes, but none jumped out as potential reboots for his career, which began in earnest when he signed with Chelsea’s academy at age 9.
Once a well-sought prospect who played for the U.S., England and Ireland youth national teams and trained alongside the likes of Eden Hazard and David Luiz at Chelsea, Scott found himself falling off the radar the past two years. He never even got a chance to train with Newcastle’s first team, despite doing so with the Blues. He chose the Magpies after turning down an offer to trial with Barcelona.
Scott wasn’t even getting minutes with the Newcastle U-23 team before and after his preseason stint with FCC. The club seemed to be focusing its attention on younger players, but Scott just kept training through the end of his contract. FC Cincinnati reached out shortly after that to see if anything had changed on his end, but nothing came of it.
As time passed and the season in Europe got underway, Scott started to grow anxious. His dad, Kevin Scott, reached out to former scout Neil Bartholomew, who had taken Scott to Newcastle after his deal with Chelsea expired. As a family friend, Bartholomew agreed to help find him another opportunity, as Scott was leaving CAA Base Agency and wanted a trusted advisor to assist him.
Kevin Scott, who is an agent with academies in England and now officially represents Scott, asked if FC Cincinnati might still be interested. That was Aug. 9 – five days after the MLS summer transfer window closed in disappointing fashion for the Orange and Blue and four days after the club parted ways with general manager Gerard Nijkamp. Bartholomew connected with Hunter Freeman the next day and negotiations progressed over the next two weeks.
Bartholomew secured a slightly better offer from FCC, though it was still less than what Scott made with Newcastle’s U-23 team (about $358,000 a year). Clubs in Holland and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, stepped in with opportunities for Scott. Scott said he trusted Bartholomew’s advice to stick with the Orange and Blue, and the parties came to an agreement in principle on Aug. 26. Three days later, he was flying into Cincinnati, the next day he was training individually, and he officially signed on Aug. 31.
“He may get a little bit more money (at another club), but it’s a dead-end route for him,” Bartholomew said. “It just seemed silly to do it. I really believe that if he comes over there and puts 18 months in, he will get picked up to either move up to another level or, you know, to get back into Europe.”
Bartholomew said he believed Cincinnati would be the best place for Scott because of Jaap Stam’s interest in him. When he took Scott to Newcastle a little more than two years ago, Rafa Benetiz was still the manager, but Benetiz left the club before his signing was announced and new gaffer Steve Bruce never gave the 5-foot-8, 150-pound midfielder a serious look, Bartholomew said.
Stam had tried to acquire Scott on loan at Reading FC in 2017 when Stam was manager there, but Chelsea’s deal to bring midfielder Danny Drinkwater from Leicester went down to the wire so the club cancelled the loan agreement.
“Really this opportunity with Cincinnati is a great chance because Jaap Stam believes in him obviously, and if you’ve got the coach believing in you, then that’s a great start,” Bartholomew said. “He needs to get his head lifted. I’ve been, a term we use over here, kicking his backside a little bit, because his head is down a little bit. But he’s got potential.”
Knowing Stam had interest now on three different occasions gave Scott hope things could be different with a coach that believed in him.
“After the time a Newcastle, you kind of see if you don’t have the right manager or someone who knows who you are and what you can do, sometimes you could be there for ages and you’re never gonna get a look,” Scott said. “So, at the age I’m at right now, I’m 23. I need to be playing football somewhere, if it’s starting or if it’s coming off the bench, or whatever it is. I need to be on the pitch or playing in front of people because three or four years ago, I was on the bench with Chelsea’s first team, but it means nothing because you’re not playing the game. So, I needed to reassess my situation. And obviously, Jaap is well known and he’s a good manager, and he was in England as well. And, I obviously knew friends that played under him, and I came out and seeing him in preseason, I knew from then it was probably the best move for me to take and stuff.”
A professional scout for 21 years with Derby County, Newcastle, Hull City, Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday, Bartholomew has been following Scott since he was a 9-year-old playing in Southampton’s academy. He had met Scott’s dad through Kevin Scott’s position as Bristol City head of academy recruitment at the time, and Bartholomew hoped to court his son to Newcastle in 2007.
Bartholomew brought the young Scott and his family to the facility in hopes of convincing him to sign, while Manchester United and Chelsea also were interested. Chelsea’s Youth Academy offer was more than what Bartholomew said he could get for first-team players, though, and Scott began a 12-year career with the Blues.
Scott made his U-18 team debut in August 2013 and continued climbing the ranks, collecting 62 appearances with the U-18, U-23 and UEFA U-19 squads before moving up to the first team in 2017-18. He made his professional debut on Feb. 16, 2018, in an FA Cup fifth-round match against Hull City, a 4-0 win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
That July, Scott was sent to Dutch second-tier side Telstar to get more first-team experience, but Scott clearly was on another talent level after playing alongside Chelsea’s stars. He made just 14 appearances and the loan ended early, sending him back to Chelsea in January 2019.
“It was a bad move,” Bartholomew said. “He was too good. I’ve got videos of him playing in that and he was head and shoulders above them. In my opinion, I still think he’s got potential to be like another Luka Modric, which the criticism of him is he small, but he’s very tenacious.”
Chelsea released him on July 1, 2019, a year and a half after the club had offered him a four-year contract. The proposal came right around the time Scott was supposed to be sent on loan to Reading.
Bartholomew said Scott’s agent at the time was trying to get more out of the deal with Chelsea. Scott also wasn’t thrilled with the club at the time because of how his loan opportunity had been canceled after five or six weeks of waiting for the move. He said he still wonders what that experience, rather than sitting the bench with Chelsea, could have done for his career.
Ultimately, Chelsea ended up pulling the offer all together.
“I don’t regret anything because I was going to get out of the club and go on loan and play football and then it didn’t happen,” Scott said. “Sitting on a bench, Champions League, Premier League is great but in the long run I look back now, like if I went on loan to Reading and I’m playing 15-20 games, it changes everything you know, so sitting on the bench or playing games as you always want to play games. So yeah, I mean it was tough leaving. I was there from a baby, but it’s football and things happen, people change in football so you just got to take it on the chin and move on.”
Scott chalks much of his ups and downs to being young and not thinking things through as wisely.
Barcelona came calling to offer Scott a chance to come train with the Catalonian powerhouse for a week-long trial, but according to Bartholomew, Scott didn’t think he needed to show the club anything more than what he’d put on film against Barcelona in the youth Champions League.
Manchester City and Tottenham had expressed interest, but Bartholomew knew he could get him to Newcastle with his connections there and Scott had caught the club’s eye during an FA Youth Cup game in 2015 when he linked up with Tammy Abraham to set up a goal in a 3-0 win for the Blues at St. James’ Park.
Former Newcastle United scout Neil Bartholomew poses with Kyle Scott after aiding in his signing with the Magpies in July 2019.
This time, Scott was willing. He signed a two-year deal. By the time he arrived to Tyneside, he hadn’t played in nine months, and then he finished the season with a groin injury. Scott ended up making just 17 appearances over two seasons before Newcastle elected not to exercise his option.
“Steve Bruce never even spoke to him in the two years,” Bartholomew said. “It was terrible. So yeah, Kyle’s now got the situation where, because he hasn’t played, even though everybody knows his ability, they still need to see that he’s going to prove himself basically. He’s at 23. In my opinion, he should have been given the chance with the Newcastle first team.”
Bartholomew said Scott’s frustrations impacted his play with Newcastle. He was booked six times in the 17 matches he played — something Scott has been working to better manage.
Coming up through Chelsea’s youth system with current English National Team players like Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Abraham, Scott once appeared on that same track. Bartholomew said Scott just needs to be seen again. He still has hopes to see Scott with the U.S. men’s team someday if things go well enough with FCC.
“He’s got such vision,” Bartholomew said. “I think that’s what stands out. He’s very quick-minded. I wouldn’t say he’s the quickest of people, but his mind is very quick, so he can be two passes ahead as a person’s coming in to tackle him. … He’s not scared of getting his foot in and tackling. I think he’ll do well. He’s just got to get the mindset right. That’s the important thing. … He’s got to get back to where people realize who he is because he’s almost been missing for two years. This is a great opportunity because what better place to go: Cincinnati, second to last, go and help them, lift up that team.”
Scott, meanwhile, is trying not to put too much pressure on himself, especially knowing it could take him some time to get back into a rhythm after being out of competition for so long. He wants to just enjoy playing again and if he can do that, he believes he will play well and “things will come together.”
“Like I said, I watched every game and it’s a really good team,” Scott said. “They’ve got some good quality, players like Lucho, Brenner, so the team has just not had so much luck this season, if I’m going to be honest. It’s been a lot of late goals and stuff. And I think they’ve been performing in the games pretty well when I’ve been watching, like on Saturday against Miami, I thought they were way better than Miami, but it was just a late goal conceded, so for me, I don’t really want to call it pressure. But you’re coming in to do a job and when a team signs you, they expect certain qualities and levels from you. So you know, it’s my job when I do get on the field to help the team to get three points and win games and get momentum and move on.”
Helping the team win games is his main goal, but personally, he just needs to get back on a pitch.
Scott said he initially worried how well he would do in preseason matches during his trial period after not playing since last October with Newcastle’s U-23s, and he adapted to game speed quickly. He’s stayed fit and continued training to be ready for whatever opportunity arose. Now, Scott believes he will be ready when called upon, just like in the preseason.
Stam indicated Thursday that Scott would continue to be assessed for match fitness to see if he could be utilized this weekend. FCC’s match against Toronto is an important one with both teams trying to avoid a last-place finish. The Orange and Blue are two points ahead of Toronto at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
“He’s versatile as a midfield player,” Stam said of Scott last week. “Kyle is a player that can play high up in the midfield. He can also drop in deeper positions and even sometimes from a wing position, playing all the way on the inside, so that makes it interesting for a player as well that he’s got certain abilities on the ball, he’s comfortable on the ball, he’s got certain intensity that he needs to bring. He’s got a very good composure on the ball as well. He’s not the biggest, but he likes to be aggressive as well and tackle, which is good in winning second balls and what we need, so he’s adding something to the team, but also for him there’s competition within the roster so when he’s there, when he’s available, then we need to make choices on what to do.”
Because of his preseason time with the club, Scott said his transition has been relatively smooth considering it didn’t quite go as planned last week after arriving. On the last day of his isolation period before being able to join the full group for training, Scott got sick with a non-COVID illness and ended up in the hospital for a day. After getting his strength back up over the weekend, Scott returned to individual training Monday and finally participated in his first group session Wednesday.
His uncle, who lives about 45 minutes away and has had FCC season tickets for a couple years now, was going to visit this week to help him get settled as well. Scott joked he needed to learn how to use an American stove. His godfather and grandmother live in Chicago as well, so he’s not far from some family.
Scott also has felt the support of fans, many of them who showed interest after watching him in the one preseason game aired on TV. He was involved in FCC’s second goal of a 2-1 win against the Chicago Fire and had several good passes and tackles, as well.
Still, Scott wants to prove to the fans – as well as himself and others – that he can be a consistent contributor.
“I’m sure nobody over here knows what I can do yet as a player so my goal was to just come into the team and obviously help the team out, help Jaap out with options and obviously show I can play at this level and make the fans happy,” Scott said. “Obviously, I did see a lot of messages from fans and stuff, so I’m excited to be here, so from my end as well I want to do good for them and win games. And the club is a really, really good club — the facilities, the stadium, everything is so good. So, you know as a player when you’re joining a club like this, you want to win games for them and the fans and everything so that’s my main goal. So yeah, I mean, personally though, it’s just games. I need to rack up games and show people what I can do.”
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