KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Soony Saad arrived as a teenaged lottery prize, an NCAA-leading scorer with a thunderous shot from distance. But before he could start to pay out to his full potential, the young forward had to learn what Sporting Kansas City expect of their players both with and without the ball.
Early in his third season, the lessons seem to have sunk in.
Saad has appeared in five of Sporting's first six matches, with one start, after nine league appearances in all of 2012. In his last outing, he came on in the 83rd minute and assisted on Claudio Bieler's 89th-minute game winner in Friday night's 1-0 win over D.C. United.
“I didn't really know what to expect my first two years, and I feel like now I'm fitting in in every aspect of it,” Saad told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday's training session. “I don't know if people expected too much back then, but this year I'm going to bring it.”
Saad joined Sporting in the middle of the 2011 season, after scoring 19 goals as a freshman at the University of Michigan. He proved instantly popular when he made his league debut and scored his first goal on his 19th birthday.
He scored twice in US Open Cup play in 2012 and recorded one league assist, but was also absent from the squad for significant stretches as he continued his adjustment to life as a professional.
“I came from being a starter and scoring a bunch of goals in college to realizing my role, knowing that I might have to wait my turn,” he said. “Mentally it's a bit draining, but once you get the hang of it and you realize that the coach has a plan for you, you go with it and you keep working hard every single day.”
That work included learning manager Peter Vermes' 4-3-3 system and his responsibilities in the high press.
“I had never played in a 4-3-3 in my life,” he said. “The way we play it, when we're defending it's a 4-5-1 and when we're attacking it's a 4-3-3. It's tough playing on the wing, just the defensive responsibility because I'm used to two up top. But I'll play wherever the coach wants me to play. I'm excited to keep going, and I like the high press.”
Saad's assist against United came after a big defensive play deep in the D.C. end. He picked Marcos Sánchez's pocket in the left corner, then nutmegged Marcelo Saragosa before slipping the ball back to Bieler for the game-winner.
It won't be his last clutch performance of the season, Saad said.
“I'm still not where I want to be,” he said. “I know that I'm going to keep working hard that way. There's a lot more to what I want to happen.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.