KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Hard shot. Deflection. Goal.
Soony Saad's back, and he's looking to make the most of his second time around at Children's Mercy Park.
Saad's second debut with Sporting Kansas City didn't quite follow the script of the first – but it was enough to guarantee three points for the club and boost Saad's hopes of winning playing time on a crowded right wing.
“I'm anxious,” Saad told reporters after creating Sporting's second score in Saturday night's 2-1 home victory over San Jose. “I'm excited to get going, and I'm excited to keep going. It's a long season, and I want to keep pressing for playing time and pressing to do something on the pitch and create something – hopefully more actions like today, but it's a long season, so we'll just have to see.”
After a two-year sojourn in Thailand, Saad returned to Kansas City in January. He came on for the first time this season on Saturday, as a late sub for Jimmy Medranda, and unleashed an 89th-minute shot that 'keeper David Bingham misplayed into his own net. The gaffe – scored as an own goal – helped secure Kansas City's first three-point take of the season after opening with a pair of scoreless draws.
“I guess they didn't give me the goal, which is fine,” he told reporters afterward. “I just wanted to make an impact, and to get three points was the most important thing for today, and we were able to do that.”
Saad scored 14 goals across all competitions for Sporting from 2011-14, including two during their run to the 2012 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup title, but his relationship with manager Peter Vermes took a hit after he came back hurt from an Asian Cup qualifier with the Lebanese national time.
Saad acknowledged that he played for Lebanon with a groin strain but maintained he hadn't made the injury worse. Vermes wasn't so sure, and told MLSsoccer.com as much at the time.
Saad did appear in 22 matches that year, only one fewer than his career high – but the following offseason, he was off to Thailand. Still, as he often does with players who go abroad for any reason, Vermes kept the channels open for a return.
“Coming back was just kind of spur of the moment,” Saad said. “An opportunity came. I spoke with Peter on the phone. I was in Thailand and just kind of hanging out, waiting for the season to start. I had a really good conversation with him, and I was ready to get back. I was ready to get back with the team and get back playing.
“I missed playing here at Children's Mercy Park. The fans here are unreal, the Cauldron and everyone. I can't wait to get results. I'm excited. I came back for a reason, and I want to make an impact.”
The time in Asia matured him, said Saad – who is contending not only with Medranda but with 2016 Ghanaian Player of the Year Latif Blessing, another offseason acquisition, for time at right winger.
“Going to Thailand has helped me kind of get a grasp on the game and kind of understand it from different points of view,” he said. “And bringing that experience is very important to Peter, who likes things a certain way. So I'm glad that I'm familiar with the system of Peter, and I can't wait to keep going and to work again.”
Though he joked about the own-goal scoring – “You guys don't know the kind of spin that he puts on the ball” – Vermes has noticed the difference in Saad.
“The biggest thing is maturity,” Vermes said, “the fact that he had a chance to go away and experience what soccer's like outside of the US.”
Center forward Dom Dwyer, Saad's old roommate and his closest friend on the team, has noticed it too.
“He's calmer on the ball,” said Dwyer, who was first to race to Saad in celebration after the insurance goal on Saturday. “He's good in possession, and then he still has that lethal shot, which everyone knows he has. So it's exciting to have him back. It's good to link up with him.
“He's one of those players – I don't have to say where I'm going. He knows where I'm going. We move well off each other, and obviously you saw the power of his shot today. It was just too much for the goalie. I know it's down as an own goal, but I'll give him the goal.”