CUNNINGHAM SHOOTING FOR BREAKOUT YEAR
American Sean Cunningham says he will be shooting for the stars this season in Norway after signing his first professional contract with Eliteserien club Molde on Monday.
The young left back Sean Cunningham inked a three year deal with Molde after undergoing a successful 10 day trial earlier this month.
The club did not hesitate when they signed him on his 18th birthday which was the first day he was eligible to sign a foreign professional contract.
For Cunningham, he feels the trial went well and is very excited to turn professional.
"Everything when I was there went as well as it could," Cunningham told YA. "It's been everything I could imagine and more. It's hard to believe I am a professional player now and I am playing for one of the former best players in the world. It's hard to grasp."
Cunningham got the trial through the United States Football Club (USFC) when he went on the club's annual Super Elite tour in Europe to face clubs from Germany, Belgium, and Austria.
In addition to Cunningham, USFC has also featured US U-20 hopefuls Soony Saad, Kelyn Rowe, and Josh Gatt who recently also signed with Molde after transferring from Altach in Austria.
After playing well on the Super Elite tour, videos of Cunningham's games found their way to new Molde head coach and former Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who then arranged the trial.
For Cunningham, he came away impressed with Solskjaer and his style of coaching which he is bringing to Norway after coaching the Manchester United reserves. Cunningham received positive feedback from Solskjaer during the trial and now looks forward to playing in an offensive minded system that doesn't resemble any style he played in as a youth player in the US.
"All the feedback I got from him was positive," Cunningham said of Solskjaer. "Which was great and it's obviously a confidence booster. He's a good [coach] that looks for youth and people that like to run. He wants us to score as fast as we can. He likes to play with fast front men who will get behind the defense."
"He also likes to have a strong set of midfielders that are good passers to play the forwards in," he continued. "He's a direct coach that likes to play in that direct fashion but with a purpose to it. I haven't really played under many coaches like him that are so interested in getting the play going as fast as he is. It's definitely been a nice adjustment to play in a high-paced offense."
The 6'2" Cunningham is hoping to break into the starting lineup at Molde as quickly as possible. He does not have a set timeline but he hopes that after the usual necessary adjustment time, he can contribute on the field for the club.
"I can't really rule anything out from the beginning but there are some things I need to adjust to," Cunningham discussed. "There is some experience I need to get in by going through training. I am not going to put a specific timeframe on it but I think by the end of the season I'll have gotten my fair share of playing time that I've earned for myself. I am just shooting to breaking into the squad as quickly as I can. It's up to me and I have high expectations for myself."
The adjustment period for Cunningham to playing professional soccer while living in a foreign country will be easier in large part because of the club's recent acquisition of Gatt who is a longtime friend of Cunningham's.
Both Gatt and Cunningham are from Michigan and the two grew up playing together now be roommates in Molde.
"It's going to make it miles of difference," Cunningham said of Gatt being on the same club. "Josh went through his hard times like every player has. If there is anyone that can give me the best advice, it would be him. It will be great to have a good buddy from home to stay after practice and work on things. All around, having him there it's going to help me tremendously."
Cunningham and Molde FK will head for Spain later this week where they will begin preseason training. He hopes to make his case early to be a big part of Solskjaer's plans to start the season. While he knows that some areas of his game need improvement for the professional level, he is confident his strengths as well.
"One of my strengths is my work ethic," Cunningham pointed out. "I always try to make sure I am out working whoever I am playing against. I also try to make sure I win all my 1v1 battles and never lose a tackle. Offensively, I am a pretty good passer. To get better, the first couple things I want to work on is putting in better crosses and I also want to keep working on my right foot."
Cunningham developed his game through many of the similar paths of American youth players. He was on clubs and played ODP along with his high school team. When he was at the U-16 level, Cunningham helped lead the Derby County Wolves to a national title and he credits the Wolves with playing the biggest role in his development as a player.
Cunningham initially had plans after Troy High School to attend Michigan but felt turning professional was the best option for him as a player.
"I was committed to the University of Michigan," Cunningham said of the decision to turn professional. "I was looking forward to going there but with an opportunity this big, it was a once in a lifetime kind of deal. I didn't think I could pass up an opportunity like this. There's no other way to become a professional quality player than actually turning professional. It's a big step but it's the right step."
While Cunningham will look to begin his professional career later this week, he also has another top goal this year of making the US U-20 national team in their run up to the 2011 U20 World Cup this year in Colombia.
Cunningham, who is also eligible for the 2013 U-20 World Cup, has already seen Gatt emerge with the U-20 national team late in the cycle with a terrific December camp and feels as if he can do the same.
"Making the U-20 national team this year is one of my top goals," Cunningham emphasized. "I was with the U-18 national team for a couple of camps last year. I guess for whatever reason, I fell out of favor with the coaching staff. Now I would like to move up to the U-20s and I know I can do that if I break into Molde as fast as I can. Josh [Gatt] speaks very highly of Thomas Rongen and he said that playing professionally for just six months made all the difference in the world for him and that if I play the way I can play and things will work out."
For Cunningham, he knows the stage is now set for him to have a breakout year for both club and country. He is confident he can take advantage of the opportunities that are now in front of him.
"I expect myself to do well and hopefully get into the team this year and start making my mark on the US program as a professional player now," Cunningham concluded. "Being professional is opening up new doors and new opportunities for me. It's my job to make the most of them."