If Chad Ochocinco didn’t make the cut for Sporting Kansas City, how would an 18-year-old fare? Don’t worry, Soony Saad did just fine.
Maybe it had to do with the star Cincinnati Bengals receiver’s $6 million salary.
Saad begins his Major League Soccer career with Sporting Kansas City — the same team who gave Ochocinco a four-day tryout in March — after the club earned Saad’s rights in a four-team lottery held Tuesday in New York.
“When I got the news that Kansas City had won me, I was thrilled,” Saad said in a conference call Tuesday. “I heard that Kansas City is a great program and just got a new stadium that any player would dream of playing in … I couldn’t have hoped for a better team than Kansas City.”
The lottery draft is available to players who signed a contract with the MLS following the SuperDraft in mid-January. Saad left Ann Arbor to play soccer in Europe following the Wolverines’ surprise run to the College Cup in Santa Barbara, Calif. in December.
Saad said his first stop in the professional ranks was in Germany in January. After a short time there, he went to Belgium, where it was rumored he was on trial with Belgian soccer giant RSC Anderlecht.
His last stop in the whirlwind welcome to European soccer was in Norway.
And now the All-American is back home in America.
“The last few months have been a little bit hectic,” Saad said. “Two months ago I was in Norway, then I came home and … things kind of fell through.
“I was looking for a European experience, but now the MLS brings me close to home but also develops a little bit of the same environment as the European environment.”
After the 18-year-old expressed his interest in the MLS, an e-mail was sent to the league notifying each team of the impending lottery.
“Probably every single team in the league said they were interested,” Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said. “I would tend to believe that everybody would love to have Soony on their roster.”
Four teams entered the lottery — Sporting Kansas City, Chicago, Portland and Chivas USA — but Sporting Kansas City won out despite having just a 21.2 percent chance of earning the rights to Saad’s contract.
As Vermes put it, Saad “fell from the sky.”
“What I would say is that he’s more than another forward,” Vermes said. “He’s a guy that you can play through, he’s an excellent finisher around the box … and he’s hungry and greedy to score goals, which I think is a great quality.”
Kansas City had an eye on Saad during his freshman year of college at Michigan, where he set three program records in goals (19), points (43) and shots (152), but was unsure whether Saad would emerge from the collegiate ranks after only one year.
The club also got a chance to see Saad during trials in Europe and once he came home to the United States.
According to Vermes, Saad would have easily have been a first-round pick in the SuperDraft had he entered it in January. Michigan forward Justin Meram was the only Wolverine taken in that draft, as he went 15th overall to the Columbus Crew.
In a conference call Tuesday afternoon, Saad explained that he made his decision to leave Michigan once he got called up to work with the US U-20 national team in December.
“A lot of opportunities came up, a lot of trial opportunities, and that’s when I decided that although Michigan had done a lot for me, the next couple months I should be developing my play in a professional environment every single day,” Saad said.
Saad, the younger brother of Michigan sophomore midfielder Hamoody Saad, has always kept European soccer as his ultimate end goal.
“It was definitely a step up from the college game, but at the same time I was able to adapt quickly,” Saad said. “In Europe they focus on a lot of technique and passing — the small things — and when I was there I felt like my game improved a lot.
“After playing with a couple clubs (in Europe), I realized that playing in Europe is only going to help me, and unfortunately we weren’t able to land the contract, even though it wasn’t, I guess, the right fit.”
According to Vermes, the experience in Europe could pay big dividends for Saad in the MLS.
“He needed to go to another level,” Vermes said. “It takes courage to test the waters. For him to go and try that I think is a huge benefit to us … I think he’ll be giving more than he ever thought he would.”
Expect the young striker to make some waves in the MLS, but his first job will be to battle onto Kansas City’s 20-man roster.
“This is a fantastic place to play, and I think he’ll find that out pretty quickly,” Vermes said.
“We’re excited to keep this one around for a little while.”