Shaun Maloney is set to make his MLS debut when his Chicago Fire side face the LA Galaxy in the 2015 season opener on Friday night, and both is head coach and teammates have told MLSsoccer.com that there are big expectations surrounding him.
Arriving from Wigan Athletic in January, the Scottish midfielder revealed to the website that he turned down a move to Premier League struggles Leicester in favour of a stateside switch, while former club Celtic had also made their interest in his signature known.
Unlike some past MLS signings, though, the former Aston Villa man insists finances weren’t a deciding factor in his decision, and was instead drawn to the prospect of a new and exciting challenge abroad.
“I don’t think the financial side of it really came into it, I certainly wasn’t going to make a career move at this stage based on finances,” Maloney, 32, said. “I think it was just the feeling that I got, in terms of a completely new challenge, completely different lifestyle and then when I spoke to the owner and the manager here it very much made my mind up.”
The Fire endured a disappointing 2014 season, finishing in ninth-place in the Eastern Conference, with a dramatic offseason rebuild following as a result.
Their prized winter addition, Maloney has been earning impressive reviews during preseason for his creative performances, and head coach Frank Yallop is excited to see what he can do now the real action begins.
“Someone like Shaun makes the team tick,” Yallop said. “With the signings we’ve made early, the one piece that we needed, and the most important piece, was getting Shaun.
“Over his career he’s been a good, solid, dependable, playmaking attacking midfielder. He’s got a lot of assists on his resume and also chips in with goals. He’s the type of player I like and I think he’s going to do really well here.”
His new teammates are just as eager to line up alongside him, with fellow star signing David Accam declaring: “For me he is the key player for our team. With his experience and also he’s very creative, so a lot of work will depend on him. Also, we’ll do our best to help him to survive, because he is a key player for us.”
Those sentiments were echoed by another winter acquisition, Nigerian forward Kenny Igboananike, who added: “He is just like a leader because he is so good and he’s got a lot of experience.
“So for him, he shows good character, good example and good with the ball. For us, to just help him and also to make him better. He’s going to make us better too, so we have to play like a family, to make everyone better.”
Maloney is set to take up set-piece duties in Chicago, where he’ll up to up his production from his time at Wigan, which saw him record 15 goals and 16 assists in 91 total appearances.
However, the 37-times capped international isn’t prepared to predict what kind of numbers he’ll put up in the US, stressing that getting the team back contending with the best in MLS is his main goal.
“I don’t tend to set personal targets, in my position I feel it’s not really that viable,” he admitted. “I just want as many assists as possible and as many wins for the team as possible, and that’s the biggest thing. I think the playoffs have to be the ambition of the team this year, and really compete, and I don’t think that’s unachievable.”