Postcard from Europe: High marks for Cunningham

Sean Cunningham at Stabæk

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Stabæk

AMSTERDAM — Sean Cunningham is five winless games into a loan spell at Stabæk. But all things considered, he doesn't have many complaints.

That’s because the 18-year-old defender has played every minute of each of those Tippeligaen matches. Last season, Cunningham's only action for Norwegian champions Molde FK were a few left back shifts in the NM Cupen.

They aren't easy games, but at least he's in them, making progress that will help him break through for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær when he returns to the parent club.

"I'm getting good feedback from the coaches," Cunningham told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Norway on Wednesday. "I know they're watching me at Molde, and so far, it's been good for me from an individual standpoint."

As for playing centrally, that suits him just fine.

"That's always been my best position, so I'm glad they like me there," said Cunningham. "I do, too."

The Michigan native says his time in the Molde reserves was well spent, and now he is beginning to see the results in his play.

"I've had great training for a year and now I'm in the league," he said. "I'm happy, generally, with my positioning and my awareness. I definitely feel I am ready for this."

Outside observers tend to agree. Each of the two leading Norwegian newspapers have him rated on par with midfield protector Ricardo Clark and a close joint-second among Stabæk defenders. He's had three games out of five with an average grade, on a team where no one rates out that high for the young season.

With times tough for the club, it helps Cunningham to have fellow American Clark around — though not in the same way it helped to have Josh Gatt on Molde campus last season when he was a new pro.

"I've been over here a year now, so it's not as if I'm nervous going anywhere or talking to guys," Cunningham said. "I already know all the new teammates very well. I'm learning the language. So it's not nice just because he's American. In terms of Ricardo, it's nice because of how much experience he has. I can ask him what it's like to play in a World Cup. Not too many people around here can say that. It's nice to get his input."

The hardest part of his Stabæk sojourn right now, however, is the team's record. His loan employers have opened with a draw and four losses, conceding 12 goals against two scored.

Though he didn't play a league game, Cunningham's pro life up to now had been spent with a title-winning outfit. He's not just hoping for better days ahead, he's expecting them.

"We're not doing so well in terms of our results, but from the first game to now we've made a lot of improvements," said fast student Cunningham, showing he's quickly learned the attitude necessary to break a team slump.

"We were unfortunate in our last game, not getting some of the calls and not scoring some of the chances we had. Then we had a red card, so it was a rough game. The last two games we've given up penalties and we've been the better team — we just have to keep working."