BEST XI: JONNY CAMPBELL
Jonny Campbell has taken on the challenge of playing professional soccer in Southeast Asia. Now, he's taken on another challenge as he sits in the hot seat for the Best XI.
I - What is your proudest accomplishment in your life?
-Smey Astounding, Phnom Penh CAMBODIA
In football, winning the Cambodia league in 2019 and going 25 games unbeaten. In life, graduating high school and college, playing professionally, and being the son of my father and grandmother.
II - How has the language barrier been? Are you fluent now and was it easy to learn? Do your teammates speak English? -
-Ryan Bender, Mar Vista CALIFORNIA
The language barrier isn't difficult, because many people can speak English, somewhat in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Many of the staff including my head coach all speak English, so I haven't really had any difficulties. When I was playing in Thailand, I was forced to learn the language more. Most of my teammates can speak a little bit, but even the ones who can't we can still communicate decent enough.
III - Cambodia is a very exotic place to go to play professional soccer. What led you to go there?
-Bradley Williams, Boston MASSACHUSSETS
My first destination was Spain after I graduated from college, then back to the USA. After two years in US soccer, I then decided to go to Thailand. Cambodia happened after a season in Thailand. I met a coach while living in Thailand who took a head coaching job in Cambodia and brought me with him.
IV - How would you describe the playing level in Cambodia? Is it comparable to MLS or any of the European leagues?
-Timothy Gibson, Atlanta GEORGIA
I don't think it's easy to compare leagues, but Cambodia and Southeast Asian football have a long way to go. Thailand is the top league in ASEAN, but a lot of the other countries are developing quickly. I'm sure there is an exciting future ahead in this part of the world. Also, in most matches, I'm usually against another foreign player because teams can only sign 4 and it's usually only center-back, midfield, striker, or winger. So, I'm almost always going up against other foreign players.
V - What is the salary like over there compared to other leagues around the world?
-Sara Payne, Palo Alto CALIFORNIA
Salary is a bit of a personal question. But, I'll say this, it really depends on the club. if I'm comparing it to US football then the salary range would be between USL and MLS for foreign players and some top local players.
VI - Jonny, what would you have been the best and most difficult parts about living and playing soccer in Asia?
-Evan Perez, Tampa FLORIDA
I'd say the most difficult part was having to start over, basically. I came from having USL experience but in this part of the world that meant nothing whenever I came. So, I had to build my name starting from the bottom. Sometimes, food can be a difficulty, or some clubs not having their stadiums, lockers rooms up to professional standards. You run into a lot of small details that are missed or just haven't been developed yet. Some clubs, have everything in order and are very professional and others don't.
VII - Are there any stereotypes in Asia about Americans playing soccer like what has happened to guys in Europe? How did clubs react when heard you were an American looking to play there?
-Riley Johnston, Surrey, British Columbia CANADA
As for stereotypes for football, I'd say not really. Many people in Southeast Asia love the USA even if they've never been. They do look at players coming from Brazil or Europe as possibly being better, before seeing them on the field. But, this is an advantage for players from those parts of the world, which their countries have earned from being successful in football. I believe this stereotype will be in the USA's favor in the future as many Americans are becoming very successful in their careers. I love seeing it.
VIII - I'm sure you have some interesting stories to share about your time in Cambodia. What has been your most unusual experience over there?
-James Davies, Birmingham ENGLAND
Southeast Asia in general is a lot different than the USA. Culture, food, lifestyle, mannerisms, and many other things. I'd say some of the most unusual stuff that you wouldn't ever see in the US is people eating insects, spiders, and scorpions. I tried a maggot because the Thai people I was with told me they tasted like potato chips, which they definitely didn't. Also, the sprayer in every toilet that we don't use in the US. The culture is a lot different, so in Thailand, feet are supposed to always stay low or on the ground. It's disrespectful to put your feet up high or to use them to do anything other than walk, run or play football.
IX - How have you handled the situation over there with COVID-19? What steps did your team take to make sure you remained fit?
-Eric Collins, Charlotte NORTH CAROLINA
COVID-19 didn't have a massive breakout here, thankfully. We only had a couple of months' lockdown, but it wasn't a full lockdown. The cases have remained low, so life here has been a lot less restrictive than it would be elsewhere during this pandemic. To ensure the league continued, new safety standards were implemented. So, they checked everyone's temperature before they entered the stadium and you had to wear a mask. We trained at home for over a month, but once the government gave the clear to continue training, we started training as a team again. First, in small groups, then back to full training.
X - How would you sell American players on giving Asia a chance if they want to play professional soccer abroad?
-Martin Johnson, Denver COLORADO
I believe Southeast Asia is a great place to play football and make a decent living. The life here is much more relaxed and the salary can be very good as well. Life is a lot less expensive here and for me, it's interesting to learn about new cultures and expand your views outside of the US. I will say foreign players have a lot of pressure to perform here because in most leagues in Southeast Asia the foreign player limit is only 4 per team. Therefore, you have a lot of responsibility from coaches, fans, and your teammates to perform your best every match.
XI - If you could go back to make one change in your professional soccer career, what would it be?
-Cedric Lee, Silver Spring MARYLAND
I wish I could go back with the amount of knowledge I have now of the professional game and start there. But, as for only one change in my professional football career, it would probably be coming to Asia sooner and starting to build my name at a younger age in this market. I've seen the amount of joy and success you can have on this side of the world as a foreign player and I'd start building that sooner. After I graduated from university, I didn't have guidance or direction, so if I had the knowledge I have now, it would've helped me so much in my career.