RYAN BACIC - Monday, August 19, 2013
The road less traveled has long been a companion to 23-year-old winger Tony Taylor.
The former American youth teamer, after all, began his journey by spending two years of college at two different Florida schools, going pro with Traffic Sports and heading off to trials across Europe.
Some temporary stability would be found at Portugal's Estoril Praia, but Taylor has since ventured off even farther into the soccer wilderness. Following his signing in June, Taylor now plays for a team none of his countrymen could claim they had before: Cypriot First Division club A.C. Omonia Nicosia.
"It's the biggest club here, the most popular," Taylor told Yanks Abroad. "They were very welcoming, and I'm very happy. It's a great club - they've treated me really well."
And by the end of it, really, just about anything would have been a step up from Taylor's prior situation at Estoril.
The Long Beach native started 14 times in the 2011-12 season, but minutes proved harder to come by when Estoril gained subsequent promotion to the Portugal's top-flight Primeira Liga. Taylor wouldn't play a full 90 minutes in all of 2012-13, with his one goal - a game-winner against Moreirense on March 30 - not even earning him a spot on the bench for the next match.
As the January transfer window opened, he was just about done. But Taylor's transfer wouldn't come.
"Estoril didn't let me go," he said. "I was just kind of waiting for the end of the season [to leave]."
With his contract up in April, Taylor said he considered every option for his next destination, including a return stateside to Major League Soccer.
The Cypriot First Division was much more of an unknown quantity at the time, but Taylor - like many others nowadays - did at least know the name of APOEL, which shockingly made it through to the Champions League quarterfinals this past year. And when APOEL came calling, he definitely listened.
That deal would ultimately fall through due to a lack of non-European roster slots, and rivals Omonia took full advantage by swooping in with an immediate follow-up offer.
But while it was primarily Taylor's production on the pitch that made him an attractive target to the 20-time champions, it was actually an Omonia player, Nuno Assis, who truly closed the deal.
"He was the one who mentioned to the coach about me, that he likes me and that he wanted me to come to the team," Taylor said of the former Benfica and Vitoria S.C. midfielder. "The coach was already speaking to my agents and looking at video of me, but Assis put in the extra push. And I think all of that together helped for them to want to bring me in."
Taylor was refreshingly wanted, for a change, and the Panamanian dual national unsurprisingly settled right in to his new home in the capital. He'd be in the starting lineup for both legs of Omonia's Europa League matchup with Astra Giurgiu in July, which ended up a 3-2 loss on aggregate.
Even so, Taylor has maintained his status as a fixture in Omonia's first XI, already marking a huge difference from the role he assumed during his final year at Estoril. The Californian scored in last week's preseason contest against Aris of Greece, and he's now turning an eye to the team's league opener August 30 against fellow title contenders Anorthosis.
His compatriots still may not know much about Omonia, but - for Taylor - the Cypriot giants' track record and passionate supporters more than speak for themselves.
"It feels like a much bigger club than Estoril, for me, [with] the fan base and the history and everything," Taylor said. "In Portugal, there are some teams where barely any fans come, you know? Here, there's fans even at friendly games - they show up, they throw stuff on the field.
"I'm looking forward to the season. It's gonna be fun."