TORONTO – At 31 with a half-dozen clubs behind him, Robert Earnshaw is still up for adventure.
“I’m all about the experiences,” the Welsh striker said cheerfully. “I mean I love playing football and I’m thankful that football’s given me the chance to see the world and enjoy it at the same time.”
His wanderlust has brought him to Toronto FC, an MLS side in dire need of attacking help.
With designated player Danny Koevermans returning from knee surgery and Luis Silva (hamstring) and Justin Braun (concussion) also out, manager Ryan Nelsen has had few options in attack.
Fortunately Earnshaw’s paperwork came through just hours before last Saturday’s season opener in Vancouver.
Despite not having played a full match in months, Earnshaw did not look out of place up front.
“I think everybody saw the quality there, the potential,” said Nelsen. “I mean the poor guy had just flown around the world and had to get his immigration papers done five hours the day before. The same with (winger) Hogan (Ephraim). They didn’t complain, they just got on with it.
“I was so worried about it I wasn’t even going to potentially start him (Earnshaw) because of risk of injury but to his credit he wanted to play.”
Earnshaw began his career with Cardiff City, before spells with Greenock Morton, West Brom, Norwich, Derby and Nottingham Forest and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
His career transfer fees have totalled 15 million pounds (C$23.2 million) although recent moves have been free transfers.
“Sometimes you want to move from different places and you want to experience different things,” said Earnshaw. “And for me, in the last few years, I’ve wanted to do that. It’s been up to me because I could have stayed longer at some of the clubs.
“Maybe this is the right place for me.”
The five-foot-eight 160-pounder played in Israel last fall before returning in January to Cardiff, for whom he has scored 105 times in 163 starts. He began to look for a new home after failing to see action with the Football Championship side.
“There comes a point I suppose in people’s careers where they look at lifestyle moves,” Cardiff manager Malky Mackay told the BBC. “Certainly a move to the MLS is, you would say, more of a lifestyle move than a professional career move. I don’t think I’m harsh in saying that.”
Earnshaw says he has had an eye on playing in North America the last few years.
So far so good, although he admits the pre-game red tape “craziness” wasn’t ideal. Earnshaw said it felt right on the pitch.
“I was enjoying it. And that’s the one thing about football, you’ve got to feel that enjoyment and I actually felt it during the game. So I’m pleased about that. It gives me a real excitement to be here.”
Earnshaw, who estimated he was perhaps 70 per cent fit, played a surprising 85 minutes in the 1-0 loss in Vancouver. The pre-game talk had been 60 minutes, with Earnshaw saying every minute above that was “a bonus.”
His last 90-minute outing was three or four months ago in Israel although he had been training daily with Cardiff City prior to the move to Toronto.
The Welshman says he was caught off-guard by the raucous atmosphere at B.C. Place.
“The fans were really loud,” he said. “It made it enjoyable, made it good to play.”
It was also an early introduction to the gruelling travel in MLS.
Asked when the last time he had made a five-hour road trip, Earnshaw paused to think. Probably more than 10 years ago, he said, referring to bus trips from south to north of England.
Travel to the West Coast was difficult, he said. But he says he is prepared for whatever comes his way in North America.
“I’ve said to myself ‘You know what? I’m going to come here and embrace everything: the fans, the stadiums, the training, and the games and really enjoy it.’
“Because if I do that, that’s only going to be a good thing for my team and for me too.”
He also got advance warning from friend and fellow Welshman Carl Robinson, a former Toronto FC winger who is now an assistant coach with Vancouver.
Toronto did not provide details on its deal with Earnshaw, but the Welshman says it is a loan through the end of June.
“I’m looking at long-term,” he said, “but we’ll see what happens because football’s crazy.”
The Zambian-born Earnshaw, who is not married but has a son who is nearly three, has scored 16 goals in 59 appearances for Wales.
He had a memorable international debut, scoring the winning goal against Germany in a friendly in May 2002.
Earnshaw is the only player to record a hat-trick in every pro division in England, including the FA and League Cups as well as internationally for Wales.
He hopes to continue his international career, saying his playing regularly in MLS will be “a good thing for Wales.”
NOTES — Toronto expects a crowd of about 26,000 at Rogers Centre with the lower bowl “effectively sold out.” The game is taking place under the dome because of the weather. TFC drew a capacity crowd of 47,658 in March 2012 when it hosted David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rogers Centre in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals.