Liam Doyle is now in his third season of playing professional football in America. He has built a reputation as one of the USL’s most reliable defenders and finished as runner-up in the tournament last year whilst playing for Swope Park Rangers. The 25-year-old has come a long way from the Isle of Man Football League.
“A few of my older friends decided to make the jump to play and study in the USA,” he says. “They expressed how much they were enjoying it and how I should do it. From there I started the process with an agency and had an unbelievable experience. I could never have Imagined it going so well.”
In 2012, Doyle decided to leave his home on the Isle of Man to peruse his football dream in America, first joining Cincinnati State Technical and Community College before majoring in Sport Industry at Ohio State University. During his time in college soccer, he was named as the Big Ten Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, an award also won by future MLS players such as Alex Crognale and Grant Lillard who play for Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire respectively.
After making such an impression in college, the defender was drafted by DC United in 2016 but due to each MLS club only being permitted to have a limited amount of foreign players, Doyle was never offered a contract.
“At the time you get sucked in to everything around the draft and almost false hope.
“For me, being an international makes it very tough entering the draft unless you are a a top 10 pick. I would advise internationals to sign a stable USL contract and work their way up from there.
“However, to be involved and drafted and to experience the process did feel great. It was disappointing not be signed by DC United after doing well in pre-season but looking back it was always going to be an uphill battle being an international player.”
Despite suffering disappointment with DC United, Doyle still fulfilled his professional football dream when he signed for Harrisburg City Islanders (now known as Penn FC) who played in the second-tier, the USL. In his first season, the defender started 30 matches, missing just two leagues all season but could not guide is side into a playoff spot.
“The standard of the USL is good and it is growing every year,” he says. “The game is fast, competitive and the different environments you play in from week to week make it a tough challenge. No pitch is the same and travel can be brutal, making away games that bit harder to win.
“It is one of those leagues where if you have an off day you will get punished and your opponent will get the better of you.”
After his season on the coast with Harrisburg, Doyle moved 1,000 miles inland to join Sporting Kansas City’s USL affiliation club, Swope Park Rangers. The move proved to be a success, with the Rangers making the USL final, only to lose 1-0 to a late Cameron Lancaster goal which handed Louisville City the title.
The 25-year-old was then on the move again as he joined brand new side Nashville SC for their inaugural season in the USL and the new club has already made an impression on him.
“It’s honestly great to be playing for Nashville. The city, fans and club have all been fantastic so far and I can only see it going from strength to strength.
“You face different challenges being an expansion team as every knows, such as a whole new group of players coming together.
“But with the backing from the fans it has made all that easier. They have been unbelievable and playing at home gives us a big advantage.”
The new side have had a solid start to the season having won five of their first eleven league games and they currently sit just inside the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Nashville are Doyle’s third team in as many seasons but his time in college had already prepared him for moving about.
“Every move has had its differences but I have managed to settle everywhere and make the most of the environment each time.
“I was fortunate to study at one of the best universities in the world which was like a city in itself, making it easy to settle.
“From there I have lived in smaller cities which have their own unique strengths. And now Nashville really is an incredible city and somewhere that many people would love to live!”
As well as playing regular football in the States, Doyle has continued to represent the country of his birth, making his debut for the Isle of Man national team in 2010. The side would regularly compete in the Island Games competition against the likes of Menorca, Guernsey, Alderney and Jersey.
In 2014, a new team named Ellan Vannin (the Manx name for the Isle of Man) was set up in order to compete in the ConIFA World Football Cup, a tournament for nations not recognised by FIFA. This year’s edition takes place in England and although Doyle cannot make this year’s tournament, he still is very proud of his heritage.
“It is always an honour to represent your country, I wish I could play for Ellan Vannin more often,” he says. “The matches are very competitive and the level is good. Unfortunately, our Ellan Vannin team does not have many full time professionals which is a challenge in itself.”
“However, there are a lot of talented players with an extremely high work ethic and we have been able to achieve some great things together.”
The Nashville defender is just one of a handful of Isle of Man natives who have gone on to play abroad and with the exception of defender Séamus Sharkey, who currently plays for Sligo Rovers, the latest Ellan Vannin squad for the ConIFA tournament contains only domestic players.
“The Isle of Man always has and always will produce quality players but we have lacked the opportunities at all ages to reach our full potential. It is frustrating that players have not been giving these chances because there are and have been many players that are capable of playing professional football.”
Doyle will be watching from afar as his nation takes on Cascadia, Tamil Eelam and Barawa in this year’s group stages as he focuses on guiding Nashville into the playoff spots. The defender who describes himself as a “footballer first with a range of passing while having good physical attributes” already has an eye on the future.
“I want to play for as long as I can, it is a short career so my belief is that I will miss it when I cant play so I want to maximise my playing career.
“After playing I do want to stay in the game, if that is in a coaching role or something behind the scenes on the technical side, we will see!
“I would say that I would like to play in the MLS one day if the opportunity comes. It is the highest level here in the US so it is something that I will always strive for.”
The Island of Man international also hints to a return closer to home to play in the English leagues but admits it would have to be a very good deal to convince him to leave Nashville and the USL.
For now, Doyle continues to fly the Manx flag in America and hopes that some of his compatriots can one day join him.
NB: This was written before the ConIFA World Football Cup started.