BEC's Saad set to make an impact, Soony rather than later
Twelve years ago, almost to the day, BEC Tero Sasana were one of the stories of Asian football.
Finalists in the inaugural edition of the Asian Champions League, they travelled to the United Arab Emirates to face the might of Al Ain. While they would lose the two-legged final 2-1 on aggregate, it was supposed to be the moment that ushered in a period of sustained success for a club founded only in 1992.
Fast forward to the current day and the Fire Dragons sit just three points clear of the drop zone in the Thai Premier League and in the midst of a run that’s resulted in just a single league win in their past 17 matches.
As frustrating as that is for BEC Tero Sasana supporters, spare a thought for one man who’s sat on the sidelines all season, watching and knowing he should have been out there making a difference.
United States-raised Lebanese international Soony Saad was signed at the start of the current campaign with high expectations that he would be the player to help BEC challenge for top spot after a third-placed finish last season.
Instead, the wheels – and several other parts – have well and truly fallen off.
The 23-year-old forward was a standout at various US youth levels and after an impressive three-year stint with MLS outfit Sporting Kansas City, was lured to Thailand as part of a league-wide approach to recruiting younger players with higher ‘upside’.
All was going to plan through the pre-season until Saad was struck down by a knee injury in January that has kept him out for all of his first season with BEC. Yet the Michigan native has maintained a positive outlook, despite the toll on individual and club.
“It’s very difficult to just sit and watch, that’s for sure,” he told FourFourTwo from his Bangkok home.
“As an attacking player and with the team not doing so well this year, you definitely think you could make a difference and I just want to get back as soon as I can.”
A month ago that long road back was almost over, when Saad was called up by Lebanon for a series of World Cup qualifiers. But he then had another setback, his knee flaring up and his season all but over at a crucial stage for both club and country.
The Lebanese national team, known as ‘the Cedars’, started the road to Russia with losses to Kuwait and South Korea, sandwiched either side of a win away to Laos. But with five matches still to play, Saad is confident Lebanon can challenge for a top-two finish.
“Definitely, we’re still a big chance and we’re confident we can get results against both Korea and Kuwait when we play them again.
“The thing for us is that we must maintain focus in the other matches against Myanmar and Laos. But you look at the roster we have and there’s just so much talent there for us not to be challengers.
“And with the new coach (former Dynamo Moscow assistant Miodrag Radulovic) coming in the players have really responded well.”
If talent and focus are the yardsticks for both BEC and the national team then in Saad, both possess a big-game player.
His football-loving father fled war in Lebanon in the early 1980s and for as long as he can remember his childhood was filled with football.
“My father never played professionally but he was a master of the game, if you know what I mean,” Saad explains.
“I never even knew the rules of American football, baseball or basketball until high school and I remember dad would pull me out of class at 2.30pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to watch the Champions League.
“We’d order pizza or have nachos and watch the games, especially when our favourite player, Zinedine Zidane, was playing. I can’t tell you how many recorded VHS matches from 1998 he has!”