Scottish Cup winner Nick Ross can’t wait to continue his American adventure after securing a Californian career switch by joining Sacramento Republic in the USL Championship.
The former Caley Thistle star, who also got married last month, is set to continue his footballing life in a new city after a move which makes perfect sense.
He has just moved to Sacramento after turning down the chance to stay at Texan club, El Paso Locomotive, also of the USL, where he enjoyed three thrilling years, with back-to-back play-offs secured.
The Invernessian is so settled in the USA, a return home was never on the cards and he was thrilled to join Republic.
He said: “I spoke to a few teams once the season finished and I was deciding what to do.
“I was close to signing another contract at El Paso, but that didn’t work out.
“Sacramento were really keen to sign me. I spoke to their manager (Mark Briggs), who is English and been out here for a while.
“I really liked what the manager and general manager had to say about the club, in terms of the way they treat the players and the way the fans are with the players.
“They are a big club, which is well established. They won the league six years ago, so they have got a good bit of history.
“Sacramento have had a couple of bad seasons, but the manager is determined to kick on. They’re signing like a whole new team this year, which should be good going forward.
“They offered me a two-year contract, which doesn’t sound a lot, but clubs don’t tend to do that in this league, so it was good to also have an option for a third year. It means we can settle here for a while.
“My wife has got a job here and is going back to school to get her Masters, so we can just focus on working, including me doing well on the pitch.”
New and old clubs meet on day one
As fate would have it, the fixtures for the new campaign, which starts on March 12, have set El Paso up with a trip to take on Sacramento on opening day.
The USL will become one division once again this year, after Covid necessitated a split to cut down on travel.
Ross is relishing the chance to make his competitive debut against his former club.
He added: “It will be strange playing against El Paso, especially going back there to play.
“It’s a really good first game for me. I still have a lot of good friends and people I know at El Paso. It will be a good experience as well as being my first game at home, which I’m really looking forward to.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about the fans at Sacramento. We can get between 10,000-20,000 in depending how the team is doing. I’m excited to see that, to have that strong home backing.”
Epic 18-hour drive worth the wait
Ross met his wife, Adriana, in El Paso, and admits the move to Sacramento isn’t a short one, as a drive the pair completed a couple of weeks ago further underlined.
He said: “We drove up recently and it’s an 18-hour drive. It was 12 hours to LA, we stopped there for a night, then it was six hours on from there.
“I used to think a four-hour trip to Glasgow was far!
“You talk about distances here, it’s like an eight to 10-hour drive – I never did that back home.”
High praise for Ross from new chief
Sacramento Republic president and general manager Todd Dunivant is thrilled to have secured the Highlander Ross’ services for at least the next two years.
He said: “Nick has anchored one of the best midfields in the league the past three seasons.
“He is comfortable on the ball and has a calm and assured leadership style that will be an asset both on and off the field.”
Gamble paid off with El Paso move
Ross, who after winning the Scottish Cup with ICT seven years ago, went on to play for Dundee then Sepsi OSK in Romania, believes his decision to leave Europe for a new challenge in the States in 2019 was a gamble which paid off.
He added “It was a step into the unknown. I knew nothing about the league and hadn’t really heard of El Paso.
“It was a gamble, but I knew we were going to have a good team, having spoken to the club. The way they wanted to play was perfect for me.
“Sometimes, in Scotland, I felt the game wasn’t suited to the way I like to play. Coming here has helped me with that. It’s been a style that suits me.
“We’ve been relatively successful, being to two play-off finals and lost them. Last year, we went through the whole league season at home undefeated and only lost two games the whole season before letting ourselves down in the play-offs.
“I have improved being over here. You feel settled and grow up a bit more. I’ve always liked travelling anyway, so it’s been great, then meeting my wife, Adriana, has helped me be more settled and she supports me with everything.”
It’s all eyes on play-offs at Republic
Having experienced the play-offs with El Paso, Ross is eager to one step further and get his hands on medals at his new side.
He added: “Over here, it is all about the play-offs and that’s what we’re aiming for. Last season, at El Paso, we had a great league campaign.
“I thought we were going to win it, because we were doing so well, but we went into the play-offs, a one-off game, and we lost in the first round of the play-offs (against Oakland Roots), who were had an okay season, but went on to win the whole thing.
“You want to have a strong league season, but really be at your best when it comes to the play-offs. That’s what we’re going for.
“My objective is to win something here. I’ve come close at El Paso.
“If you get to the play-offs, anything can happen.”
Arbroath progress tracked by Ross
The 30-year-old playmaker maintains an interest in football back home, although his move means tuning into English games at 7am.
His home city club, Caley Thistle, are on the trail of shock troops Arbroath at the top end of the Championship and he says the harsh chills of Gayfield give the part-timers a strong advantage.
He said: “The Championship looks good this season with a lot of good teams including the surprise side, Arbroath. They are doing really well.
“Caley Thistle started the season so well and I thought it would be between them and Kilmarnock, but Arbroath have come from nowhere.
“I have played at Gayfield a few times and it’s not an enjoyable place to play.
“When I was at Dundee, it was the first year of the winter break, and after it we had a mini pre-season then we played Arbroath in January. I’ve never been so cold – I can see why teams struggle to win there.”