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Doing things the Dundee United way: Former Tangerines defender and Northern Virginia chief Brian Welsh has high hopes for his kids in America

Former Dundee United defender Brian Welsh (right) celebrates promotion to the Premier Division in 1996 with team-mate Owen Coyle.
Former Dundee United defender Brian Welsh (right) celebrates promotion to the Premier Division in 1996 with team-mate Owen Coyle.

For all he loves his life stateside, it hasn’t always been the American Dream for former Dundee United defender Brian Welsh.

Since moving to the US in 2012, Welsh has endeavoured to bring the beautiful game to young soccer stars across Virginia.

Despite his best efforts, at first he found the football culture in the United States alien to what he experienced in his playing days at Tannadice.

By his own admission, he’s no Jim McLean, but Welsh is hopeful he now has the tools to export “the Dundee United way” across the pond after a partnership between the Tangerines and Northern Virginia United came to fruition last month.

Brian Welsh celebrates his crucial goal in the first leg of United’s 1994 Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen.

Owner and head coach of the fourth-tier side since 2018, Welsh was pivotal in the clubs entering into a working relationship that will see them share resources and, hopefully, players in the years ahead.

It is the first step on a long road for the Tannadice men as they plan to sell their ideology to the world via a network of feeder clubs.

Hall of Fame hero Welsh, who made 177 appearances in tangerine from 1985-96, scoring 14 goals, is proud to be a part of the Terrors’ vision for the future and has high hopes for their link-up.

‘That’s massively important to me – that we do things the Dundee United way’

“Dundee United have done a great job with their academy lately,” the 52-year-old said.

“It’s not just a case of them throwing out messages like: ‘Oh, this is our curriculum’.

“Dundee United are actually doing it and putting players in the team.

“We can all talk about youth development and our philosophies. That’s all great, it looks good on paper, but they’re actually doing it and putting kids in the first team.

“They’ve got a history of that going back.

“It’s perfect for us to get access to the coaches, we want to train our kids like Dundee United are training theirs.

“That’s massively important to me – that we do things the Dundee United way.”

Former centre-half Welsh hopes to send his young Americans across the Atlantic to Andy Goldie’s academy and vice-versa as both clubs expand their horizons.

The scouting never stops for Welsh, committed to giving every player the right opportunity.

Dundee United academy chief Andy Goldie.

He continued: “We have access to a lot of good, young players in our area and I’m out and about all the time looking at them.

“There’s a lot of cracking clubs in the community but there’s no pathway in terms of they’ll never get to the MLS.

“We’ve had a few go pro in the last couple of years and, for me, the ideal place is to put them to my old club.

“If we can send even one that is a bit special then that’s great for Dundee United and us.

“We also have kids who aren’t going to be professional players and Dundee United will give them a chance to be trained by academy staff in St Andrews.

“Kids in America are always looking for places to go and little opportunities. It will be a brilliant experience.

“You might have United players, too, who need games that could come over for our summer season or guys who maybe aren’t quite going to make it.

“They can come over and be in front of some college coaches in America.

“Not everyone makes it out of the academy but they’re still good, young players. My three sons all done soccer scholarships and it’s a great option for some of these kids.”

Developing stars of the future out-weighs any rose-tinted nostalgia of yesteryear for Welsh

Welsh, who previously managed Cowdenbeath and worked at Livingston, was keen to stress the partnership isn’t about elite football nor an attempt to recapture former glories both he and the club experienced.

Of course, there is clear joined-up thinking, a logo re-design to incorporate the Tangerines’ further into Northern Virginia’s identity is physical evidence of that.

However, Welsh insists it’s all about the kids and affording them the opportunity to sample football and life on both sides of the water.

“The lion is there on the crest for a reason, I think,” he added.

“It’s not about me or Dundee United, though, it’s about giving kids their opportunity. That’s the reason the club was started.

“In our area we’ve got DC United and they’ve not got eyes everywhere.

“That’s basically it so if you’re not getting picked up by DC United where are you going?

“You’ve got kids going everywhere, parents taking them all over trying to give them opportunities and they’re desperate for them.

“My thought was, if I start this club, anyone that comes into my environment won’t be missed if they’re good enough.”

Brian Welsh playing for Dundee United in 1990.

The former Hibs man continued: “The American lifestyle is attractive for young guys coming over.

“In our league, some teams are a good standard.

“I’m not saying we’re world-beaters or whatever but we come across players.

“When I started this club, a lot of these amateur clubs have older players who might have played at a good level, the odd ex-pro, but I never did it for that.

“I do it for the kids so they can get better playing against experienced players – the kind of thing I went through.

“It’s sink or swim, how are you going to handle it?

“When I was a young, or even when I got older, I loved playing against international players.

“Different cultures, different environments, it was totally different how they play the game and how they behave on the pitch.

“I’m getting videos of players from South America now; I used to get loads when I was at Livi and would sit and watch the old DVDs.

“I was looking at this player, an Argentine kid, and I was like: ‘He’s decent’.

“My first thought was to get him over here and then send him away to United.

“Don’t get me wrong, we won’t be churning out loads, but we come across the odd player, right good players.

“I look at it like this – if I can send one that’s absolute quality then I’ve helped my old club.”

It’s been a quarter of a century but ‘heart is always there’ at United

Edinburgh man Welsh has returned home a number of times over his near-decade spent in America, taking parties of kids to train with United and Hearts.

Moving forward, though, it’ll be a mutually exclusive relationship with the Tangerines, a club he has developed a great affinity for.

From winning the Scottish Cup under Ivan Golac in 1994 to scoring a goal that helped seal promotion back to the Premier Division in ’96, Welsh has great memories of his Tannadice days but, too, opened up on the injury problems that ended his career.

He explained: “I used to take seven or eight kids back to Scotland do a little tour.

“They’d go to Hearts, United and that experience they got will live with them for the rest of their lives.

“They were on the field at Tannadice and stuff like that.

“It might be more than seven or eight now, it might be less, but they won’t be going to Hearts, they’ll be going to one place.

“You know how much Americans love St Andrews!

“I always get treated well when I come back but it’s been a long time…1996, 25 years ago!

Brian Welsh in his Dundee United days.

“My heart is always there, though, because I was at United for 11 years.

“The 1994 cup win was the highlight, of course, and I loved Ivan.

“When you’re a professional, it’s not all enjoyable because there’s a lot of pressure and it’s hard work.

“It’s when you go back you miss it, the adrenaline and all that but there’s a lot of pressure on footballers.

“My career was finished by injury at 29, out of my hands after I got an injection into my Achilles. It was tough.

“I remember watching games and it was hard at the time with three young kids.

“You go from being a professional footballer at 29 to digging holes for the gas board, out driving taxis and just scraping by at 30.

“It’s living the dream but it’s hard going. I think people forget that.”

A new chapter in the Brian Welsh-Dundee United story

Welsh is used to the American way of life now, perhaps not to the same extent as sons Daniel, Michael and Chris, and appears to be looking forward to a new chapter with United after all these years.

“I’ve been here since February 2012 so nearly 10 years,” he reminisced.

“Daniel coaches at the club, he played college at a good level and enjoyed the experience. Michael used to coach with me but is at a different club now.

“Chris, my youngest one, he’s selling solar! Solar Chris, he’s loving it! By the way, I think I might have a bit of it as well.

“America, you can do anything here if you’ve got a bit about you. Anything is possible.

“It’s definitely not a closed mind-set.

“Am I living the American Dream? Well. . . I’m enjoying it put it that way.”

Modest and self-effacing, Welsh’s character is still very much Scottish.

Sprinkle in stardust from that famous story of American ambition, though, and Dundee United and their Northern Virginia allies have all the ingredients needed to dream up a brighter future.