Like father, like Soony

By
Updated: May 12, 2016
Soony Said chainat

It is perhaps not surprising Pattaya United playmaker Soony Saad eats, sleeps and breathes football – it’s in his blood.

In war-torn Lebanon during the late 70s and early 80s his father Ali, then a football-obsessed teenager, would find any patch of bombed out concrete to kick a ball around in the midst of firefights, kidnappings and murders.

Ali, then aged 18, eventually escaped Lebanon with six of his siblings, joining his parents in Dearborn, Michigan to seek out the American Dream.

Forward on 30-odd years, and self-confessed soccer anorak and Liverpool fan Soony, 23, is aiming to not only make his own footballing dreams come true, but those of his father too, as he represents the Lebanon national team and seeks to make a name for himself in Asia.

After a desperate start in Thailand, where he was out for all of last season due to a serious knee injury, the technically gifted No.10 has started to set the Premier League alight this term, with three assists and four eye-catching goals already for Pattaya United, including a stunning free-kick against leaders Bangkok United, a late long-range screamer to take all three points at Army United and a cheeky lob to cement the win against Chainat (top, pictured celebrating the goal).

“My father was obsessed with football – he played on the streets during a very bad time in Lebanon. It made his own mother worried sick, but nothing would stop him” said Soony as he met up with ThaiGoals over breakfast in a Sukhumvit coffee shop.

“Dad always found a way to play. He liked to play in goal, and loved to dive around on the cement. Even though Dad was never a professional, he’s the smartest coach I’ve ever met. If my Dad tells me I didn’t play well, I didn’t play well. He’s obsessed with football – he’s got hundreds of VHS tapes at home of Champions League, World Cups, you name it.

“Me and my brother loved football the same way. As kids growing up, we would see how many cars we could kick a ball across, and there is probably still a dent in the door at home where we would smack the ball! I’d always practice my shooting, going to the local pitch with a bag of balls. I like to think it gave me an eye for goal.

“Dad worked his backside off after coming to America, and has been at Ford for 25 years. He’s been my inspiration. Now it’s amazing I’m able to represent Lebanon.”

Soony Said MLS

Soony with his father Ali after an MLS game in 2013

Soony, who has an American mother, was a star high school football player in the States, attending the famed IMG Academy in Florida and representing US national team age-group sides, once lining up against Brazil and current Liverpool star Coutinho.

His dream was to make it in Europe, travelling to Germany as a teenager where he had trials for FSV Mainz 05, in the process playing with Christian Fuchs, a member of Leicester City’s remarkable English Premier League-winning squad.

Despite a tentative contract offer, Soony decided to return home and attend the University of Michigan, before later signing professional terms with Sporting Kansas City in the MLS under the US draft system.

There Soony, who featured in a pre-season friendly against Manchester City, excited fans with his natural ability and long-range shooting, netting eight goals in 58 appearances during a three-year spell.

But he never quite held down a regular first-team spot, and by that time already had an eye on Asia after securing his Lebanese passport and making his debut for the national team.

It was while impressing and scoring during Lebanon’s 5-2 win over Thailand in March 2013 that he came to the attention of clubs here, and BEC Tero Sasana under Serbian Bozidar Bandovic secured his services before the start of the 2015 season.

A cruel pre-season knee injury kept him out for all of last season, which was agony for a man who came to Asia looking for regular first-team football and a coach who believed in him.

“I came to Thailand to play football so it was very difficult physically and mentally to be out for so long,” he said. “I had started pre-season well, scoring four goals, then just got a bad challenge in one of the games. After surgery, I was told not to walk for six to eight weeks, so I lost a lot of muscle.

“I was playing again by July, but then got re-injured in a national team camp. I ended up employing a physio who has worked with Gilberto Silva, and after time with him in Bangkok, I experienced a dramatic improvement. I was playing friendlies again towards the end of last season.”

But before the start of this season he was told he wasn’t in new coach Branko Smiljanic’s plans at BEC Tero, and with a year of his contract left, Soony “didn’t hesitate” to go on loan to Pattaya United under new Serbian boss Milos Joksic.

It was a chaotic start for Soony and his team-mates, with the newly-promoted club only sure of its very participation in the league days before the season started due to financial problems. They did not enjoy a proper pre-season, and foreign stars were missing for the first few games.

But the side has now begun to gel, with The Blue Dolphins winning five games on the spin (though Soony sat out the May 8 game against Osotspa due to food poisoning, and was ineligible for Wednesday’s win at BEC Tero).

Soony Army United

Soony celebrating his goal at Army with Junior Negrao

“I’m definitely content with the start we’ve made, but there is more to come, from me and the team” he said. “We didn’t have a full squad before the season started and we were still missing the spine of our team [centre back Kim Jin-kyu and defensive midfielder Antonio Pina] in the second game.

“I think we are good enough to be up there where Sukhothai are [fifth]. We’ve started to develop more chemistry as a team. I’m enjoying myself on the pitch. It helps there is not only me scoring goals, with Junior [Negrao] finding the back of the net too. And we get a lot of support from the Pattaya Ultras. They are amazing fans and stood by us during our poor start. They are crazy, which is the way it should be as football fans should have some level of crazy.”

Soony can’t wait for the challenge of facing free-scoring Muangthong United at home on Sunday [May 15], believing his side could nick a surprise win.

But even though he has embraced living in Bangkok and sees himself in Thailand for a few more years yet, you sense his heart truly belongs with Lebanon, playing as much for his father and his ancestors as he does for himself.

“The country is football mad and we have some very skillful players, but just lack a bit of tactical awareness at times,” he added. “The potential is there, despite our poor World Cup qualifying campaign this time. I love playing for my country and am excited for the future.”

Images Pattaya United

 

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ThaiGoals, Thailand Soccer, Thai Football, Premier League of Thailand, Thai Fixtures

Thailand National Team, Thai Grounds, Thai Division One, Thai Regional League, Thai FA Cup, Thai League Cup

ThaiGoals, Thailand Soccer, Thai Football, Premier League of Thailand, Thai Fixtures
Thai Regional League, Thai FA Cup, Thai League Cup, AFC Champions League, AFC
Thai Goals, Thailand National Team, Thai Grounds, Thai Division One, Thai Regional League, Thai FA Cup, Thai League Cup< ThaiGoals, Thailand Soccer, Thai Football, Premier League of Thailand, Thai Fixtures ThaiGoals, Thailand Soccer, Thai Football, Premier League of Thailand, Thai Fixtures
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