Winston Reid relishing opportunity with Sporting Kansas City: "It's been way more than I expected"

New Zealand international center back and longtime English Premier League veteran Winston Reid began his Sporting Kansas City tenure under the strangest of circumstances.

Mere weeks after Reid joined the club on loan from London outfit West Ham United, where he had spent most of the previous decade as an integral part of the Hammers’ backline, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a suspension of play across the globe.

Having spent roughly half of the 2020 preseason with Sporting in Arizona, Reid returned to England to be with his family before traveling back across the Atlantic in late June as Manager Peter Vermes’ men ventured to Walt Disney World for the MLS is Back Tournament.

Despite the whirlwind start to his stint at Sporting, Reid managed to find his footing and credited the club for welcoming him with open arms.

“I don’t think it’s just been crazy for me, but I think it’s been crazy for everyone in the world,” Reid said. “Nobody saw this (pandemic) coming. I’m fortunate enough that everyone around the club has been really good to me. I’ve enjoyed my time here so far.

“Hopefully now, not only myself but as a group, we can stay fit for the remainder of the games. You’re going to need everyone in the squad to play from here on out. Hopefully everyone can stay fit and we can (string) some wins together.”

Since the MLS regular season resumed in home markets in mid-August, Reid has started three of five appearances for a Sporting Kansas City side that entered the weekend a point out of first place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Reid anchored the West Ham backline for the better part of eight seasons, racking up 222 competitive appearances for the East London club. That haul included 166 games in the top-flight Premier League, with Reid cementing his status as a Hammers folk hero by scoring the final goal in Upton Park history to seal a dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester United in May 2016.

The 6-foot-3 defender was also a colossal figure on the New Zealand national team, notably scoring at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but a fateful knee injury suffered with West Ham in March 2018 threw a wrench in Reid’s career. He spent the better part of the next 18 months recovering on the sideline before returning to the pitch in late 2019.

“I always had a mindset that I could get back, and I just had to work hard to do it,” Reid said. “It took a little bit longer than I would have ideally wanted it to, but I think I’m getting there. Hopefully from here on out for the remainder of my career, I can stay fit and stay healthy. That’s my main goal.”

After gaining minutes with the West Ham U-23s late last fall, Reid decided to make the jump to Major League Soccer. It represented a stark turn in his career path, but the defender sensed that the move might just be what he needed to rekindle his form.

“I knew I had to find a place where I could be happy, feel the joy of it again and play,” Reid said. “I was fortunate enough to land here, and I’ve been enjoying my time so far. It’s been great. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in three or four months. I don’t think anyone knows that at this point in time because it’s difficult to look into the future.

“At the moment, I’m really happy I’m here. I’m enjoying my time with the group. The people here at the club and (around) the city, my teammates, they’ve been great. The only difficult thing is not having my family here full-time. But apart from that, everything’s been really, really good.”

Speaking with media on Friday at Compass Minerals National Performance Center, Reid admitted that his knowledge of MLS was limited upon arriving in Kansas City in February. However, the overall quality of the league and its players has opened his eyes in the best way possible.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect when I came over here. I think you find in MLS that there are a lot of athletic players,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good athletes that are athletic, strong and fast and can run a lot. That resembles to me what you see in England, because over there you have to have those qualities unless you’re an exceptional player who can survive without that. The pace of the game over here is quicker than I expected. There are some really good players over here—players that I’ve played with and against.

“All in all, I’ve been really positively surprised about the level, not only on the pitch but off the pitch as well—especially here (in Kansas City) with the setup and the people around the team. It’s really professional and they take really good care of you. It’s way more than I expected, so I’m positively surprised.”

Reid and Sporting face a crowded fixture list to end the abridged 2020 regular season campaign. The team will play 10 more times between now and Decision Day on Nov. 8, a busy stretch that begins Saturday at the Houston Dynamo. Kickoff at BBVA Stadium is set for 7 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City.