HERRIMAN, Utah (Monday, February 12, 2024) – Real Salt Lake interim Chief Soccer Officer / Sporting Director Kurt Schmid today announced the signing of versatile midfielder Matt Crooks, the 30-year-old Englishman transferring stateside from Championship side Middlesbrough. Pending receipt of both a P-1 visa and his International Transfer Certificate (ITC), Crooks is signed with RSL through the 2026 MLS season.
“Everyone on the technical staff and in the front office are quite excited to welcome Matt Crooks to Salt Lake,” said Schmid, noting that the 6-foot-4 Crooks joins Kenny Deuchar, Jamison Olave and Kevon Lambert as the tallest players in RSL’s 20-year history. “Matt is a player that should fit in very well on and off the field. He brings size and veteran leadership. He has good feet and his awareness on both sides of the ball really stands out.
“Crooks is always very involved in the final third, always in the mix with the ability to score and set things up. He can combine well and he’s willing to do the work with and without the ball. We always look for good characters and players who will fit in the locker room. He is a good cultural fit and a high-character person that should translate his experiences and skills to MLS.”
After joining Middlesbrough in July of 2021 from Rotherham United – whom he helped earn promotion from League One in 2020 – Crooks had logged three goals and six assists for ‘Boro to this point in the EFL Championship season. With 23 goals and 14 assists in his 115 total appearances at Middlesbrough, the fan favorite (nicknamed “Tree” since his youth) departs Teesside immediately, with his family to follow this summer.
“I’m quite excited to make this move, very much the right time and right fit for me,” said Crooks, just a few days after RSL added another European transfer – former Greece youth international Alex Katranis – to the 2024 roster as an outside back. “In speaking to Kurt and the manager while in Portugal, they showed me how we want to play – it's pretty similar to our style at Middlesbrough. These are exciting times for MLS, I feel like the League's really growing now, with the World Cup coming over here in a couple of years' time. There's respect for football/soccer in America at the minute. I'm really looking forward to being a part of it and hopefully I can show everyone what I can do.”
“RSL is obviously a tight-knit club. Really close together, similar to what I've had in the past. I've been at smaller clubs in big leagues with maybe bigger names, but the cohesion of the players and the teamwork that you put together can sometimes contribute to more than just singular talents. Which is probably something that's been a big part of my resume in the past. MLS is getting a bigger name and a better reputation. Obviously with the likes of Messi and what have you coming over, that's really enhanced the sport over here. I'm just looking forward to it. I wouldn't say I'm a Salt Lake or an RSL professor just yet, but I'm looking forward to getting to know more. That’s what I’m coming over for.”
Since signing a professional contract at the age of 16 at Huddersfield Town in 2010, Crooks – born in Leeds as the son of two deaf parents and a lifelong Manchester United fan, even playing in their Academy prior to his move to the Huddersfield Town youth setup – has logged 361 professional appearances across the top four levels of English football (as well as the Scottish Premiership) since his professional debut in October, 2010, scoring 66 career goals.
“The RSL style is going to be slightly different from last year. It seems to be a bit more possession based. Salt Lake fans probably won't be familiar with what Middlesbrough have done, but it’s very similar. The way they build up with the 4-2-4, with the keeper as well. The two pivot midfielders quite close to one another the 4 spread up alongside them beneath the striker, which is very similar. I think my role will be as one of the 10s. I think you'd like me to be in that 10 role.”
“When I first came to Middlesbrough three years ago, I was an out-and-out eight. For the first – I'd say 18 months, 20 months or so – I was playing as an eight. Then obviously the new manager came in and he played me as a nine for a little bit, and then more so this season, I've played as a ten in a similar kind of role that that we at Salt Lake play as a ten. I can do 10. I can do 8. I’m quite flexible really with regards to all that. But yeah, attacking midfielder, the 10, I like to score goals and enjoy that side of the game.”
Crooks joins RSL veterans Marcelo Silva (34 years, 326 days), Maikel Chang (32-298), Zac MacMath (32-187) and Tomas Gomez (30-266) as one of five ‘over-30’ players on a roster that also boasts several teenagers [Luca Moisa (16-312), Luis Rivera (16-083), Axel Kei (16-053) Zavier Gozo (16-326), Fidel Barajas (17-311) Jude Wellings (17-290) and Gavin Beavers (18-287), in addition to 20-year-old Olympic hopeful Diego Luna (20-126)].
“It's nice to be around the younger lads, they make me feel younger; I just turned 30, so I know the ‘3-0’ kind of scares some a bit, doesn't it?” added Crooks, joking about his recent birthday. “I’m excited to meet different people, from different cultures, from different backgrounds, learn and see how they've come up through the game. That's another thing about MLS and coming to Real Salt Lake, there's so many different people from different backgrounds and just getting to know people and how they work and what makes them tick and I'm just excited to be part of that and if I can help any of the lads that want to listen to my words of wisdom, I’m all for it.
Real Salt Lake will mark the 10th club in the two-way midfielder’s well-traveled career. Born on 20 January, 1994, Crooks has developed a reputation at each stop as a community-invested figure, and expects to continue his work with the Peter Doody Foundation – a charity which aims to normalize epilepsy, a condition with which Crooks has been diagnosed since he was an 18-year-old – and the Jordan Sinnott Foundation Trust, for which he serves as Vice-Chair and Trustee.
“The off-field adjustment and immersion in the community are going to be good for me,” continued Crooks, noting he will have a lot of spare time on his hands, especially at the start, because his family aren't coming over straight away. “So I may as well just throw myself straight in. Get involved with the community, find out more about the place and the people that live here. I have my own charity that I've set up in memory of my best friend. Maybe we could bring that stateside as well. I'll try my best to try and get that going.
Crooks will wear jersey number 25 for RSL, continuing that which he wore at Middlesbrough. RSL defender/midfielder Emeka Eneli will now wear number 14 for the 2024 campaign, with first-round 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Matthew Bellmoving to number 12.
“I'm happy that we've made the decision to come and my family is excited to really immerse ourselves in the lifestyle and the League. I've really enjoyed my time at Middlesbrough – it was not an easy decision to leave, but this was the right opportunity for me to experience something new and I'm really excited by it. I want to be successful. I want to win at the end of the day. So that's what we’re here for.”
Real Salt Lake returns 10 of the 11 starters from last year’s postseason series against Houston for the 2024 MLS season, as well as healthy versions of both FW Chicho Arango and MF Pablo Ruiz, neither of whom were able to start in that playoff round.
The 2023 RSL side amassed the Club’s seventh 50-point season all-time, and just the second since the 2014 campaign. Finishing 11th overall out of 29 teams, RSL crashed out of the postseason by the thinnest of margins for a second consecutive year (Austin 2022, Houston 2023), dropping a road shootout tiebreaker in Texas. Based on that finish, RSL will be grouped with both Houston and Liga MX side Atlas F.C. in Leagues Cup 2024 this July.
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