KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Seeing as it was his 19th birthday, it was only right that Soony Saad would get a gift on his professional debut for Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night.
The rookie probably would have preferred a 25-yard screamer to open his Major League Soccer account, but he definitely wasn’t complaining about the bizarre circumstances surrounding his 72nd-minute goal against the Portland Timbers, either.
“Best birthday so far,” Saad said after the 3-1 victory. “For sure.”
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The goal, on the other hand, certainly won’t go down as one of Saad’s all-time best.
Nine minutes after coming on as a substitute for Milos Stojcev, the former University of Michigan forward, who Kansas City picked up in a weighted lottery on July 5, gamely ran onto a pass from Seth Sinovic at the edge of Portland’s penalty area.
Timbers center back Eric Brunner easily beat Saad (above at right) to the errant ball, but his clearance ricocheted off the inside of the rookie’s left boot. In a split second, a play that began as routine as they come transformed into a picture-perfect lob that goalkeeper Troy Perkins could only wave at before the ball settled in the back of the net.
Pretty? Sure. But intentional? No chance.
“A goal is a goal,” Saad said, a smile creeping across his face. “Any striker would take a deflection, anything. It’s good for me to come on the field and help the team get the extra goal and the safety net.”
Still, nobody could blame Saad for immediately celebrating with a fist pump and a few muffled giggles followed by a ride on the back of forward Kei Kamara to a pack of his teammates waiting to celebrate on the touchline.
It was his birthday, after all, and an ideal exclamation point to his first appearance as a professional.
“It’s just welcoming him to the team,” Kamara said of the duo’s improvised celebration. “It’s a special day for him. It’s his birthday and debut. Every goal counts.”
Peter Vermes said he wasn’t surprised to see Saad make an immediate impact just weeks after arriving in Kansas City. The Sporting manager said Saad’s work ethic and desire to learn has been evident from Day 1, and it was just a matter of finding the right time to give the Detroit-area native his first minutes.
“It’s a testament of what you’ll see in the future with this kid,” Vermes said. “I think he has that goalscorer’s mentality.”
And if his debut was any indication, it would seem Saad just has a knack for scoring goals.
It may not have been one for the highlight reel, but they all count, something the rookie doesn’t have to be told twice.
“I’m a forward so scoring goals is always something in my mind,” Saad said. “This is amazing to get a goal on my birthday, my debut. I’m just happy that I came in and was able to help the team.”