KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The summer transfer window is still a week away from officially opening, but an unexpected roster addition fell into Sporting Kansas City's lap this week.
Kansas City acquired the rights to Soony Saad, an 18-year-old former University of Michigan forward who led the NCAA in scoring last fall with 19 goals, in a weighted lottery on Tuesday despite having just a 21 percent chance of landing the young striker.
“I almost look at this one as one that just sort of fell out of the sky,” manager Peter Vermes said, equating the pickup to a first-round draft pick.
Saad, who said he was “thrilled” and “ecstatic” to be joining Sporting, left Michigan to pursue professional opportunities in Europe after helping lead the Wolverines to their first College Cup appearance.
Although he completed trials in Belgium, Germany and, most recently, Norway during the past six months, Saad said he wasn’t able to land a contract. This left him in limbo since he had hired an agent and therefore exhausted his college eligibility.
Without a professional environment to train in full time, Saad said he and his agent began searching for alternatives to his original dream of starting his career across the Atlantic. That led to contact with Major League Soccer, a subsequent contract offer and a wait to see which club would acquire his rights.
“We looked into different possibilities,” Saad said, “and MLS was there. I was looking for a European experience before. But now, moving to MLS, I’m ready to stay close to home and also develop in sort of the same environment as a European environment.”
Although he likely would have been able to land a Generation Adidas contract had he returned to Michigan for another season, Vermes said Saad’s decision to test himself in uncertain waters can only benefit the player and the club as he begins the transition into a more challenging environment.
“He realized that for him and his development, he needed to go to another level,” Vermes said. “Now, he’s going to be in a position where on a daily basis he’s going to be challenged, he’s going to grow and has the ability to play with players that are of a higher level and are going to challenge him every day.
“He’s going to be in a great environment," Vermes added. “If he has the commitment and the enthusiasm to really take in as much as he can, he’s going to grow very quickly.”
The main knock on Saad coming out of school was that his relatively slight frame (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) wouldn’t be conducive to MLS’ physical style of play. He acknowledged that concern was something he was aware of, but said he felt like it was something that could be overcome.
“I’m willing to go into tackles and make up for my lack of … physical presence," he said. "Hopefully, the transition will be pretty smooth. It’s not going to be easy.”
After playing forward alongside Columbus Crew draft pick Justin Meram at Michigan last season in a 4-4-2, Saad’s position is still uncertain in the professional ranks. Vermes said he and his staff scouted the forward during his freshman season and have a pretty good idea where he might fit in with Sporting’s current style of play.
“He is more of an underneath forward,” Vermes said.“He’s a guy you can play through, but he’s an excellent finisher around the box. How he fits into the way we play, I think that’s going to be determined over time.”
Though he will be hard-pressed to make a first-team impact immediately, the return of the Reserve League and immersion in a high-level training environment should help spur his development as he begins his professional career.
“I’m willing to work hard and do my best in practice any time I’m given an opportunity,” Saad added. “I’m confident that I can develop here and help the squad. I know they have some good forwards, and I like the challenge. I’m willing to compete."