Kansas City star Saad to finally make Cedars competitive debut

File - Sporting Kansas City's Soony Saad (22) celebrates after scoring, with teammate Aurelien Collin, right, in the second half during an MLS soccer game against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, July 20, 2013, in Sandy, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

BEIRUT: Lebanese football will aim to continue riding the wave of success when they clash with Kuwait in a decisive encounter Friday, in their quest to qualify for the 2015 Asian Championship in Australia for the first time. Lebanon have four points and currently sit in third place in Group B, one point behind Kuwait and three points back of group leaders Iran.

The Lebanese side heads to the game in a confident mood after the return of inspirational talisman Roda Antar and the arrival of promising 21-year-old striker Soony Saad to the squad.

Lebanon will look to use both Antar and Saad to hone their front line, which has been the side’s Achilles’ heel and nullified their ability to consistently threaten opponents’ defenses. The striker position was problematic for former coach Theo Bucker, and current boss Giusseppi Giannini will be hoping that Saad can rise to the occasion Friday.

The Cedars have never been blessed with a natural striker, with former forward Mahmoud al-Ali banned for life for match fixing and Mohammad Ghaddar away from action for several months before returning to net the equalizer in last month’s 1-1 draw with Kuwait.

However, Kansas City forward Saad could prove to be the missing piece in the Lebanese structure, as he will bring speed and energy to the pitch. Saad is also characterized by his precision and efficiency in front of the goal. He is a natural forward who scored at a prolific rate at college level. He scored 17 goals in his freshman year with the University of Michigan, before finding the net on his national team debut in a 1-1 draw against Oman in May.

Acquired by Sporting KC via a weighted lottery in 2011, Saad scored in his Major League Soccer debut on his 19th birthday and now has five goals and five assists in 36 MLS appearances. He scored two goals during Kansas City’s run in the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship and also struck twice in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League group stage.

Saad has previously represented the United States at youth level, most recently appearing for the U.S. under-20 side in December 2010.

The 21-year-old forward is a candidate to start Friday as Lebanon’s center forward, while Hasan Maatouk and Mohammad Haidar will occupy the wings, forming a dangerous trio with great scoring ability. Midfield general Antar will sit behind them, controlling the tempo and linking the lines together. The Kuwaitis are not the most skilled side, but they can create some organized team moves, though their defense is not particularly hard to break down if Lebanon can utilize the speed of Maatouk and Haidar on the flanks.

Whether Saad makes a positive debut in his first competitive match remains to be seen, but it would be unfair to place unreasonable expectations on the young striker in what could prove to be a hostile situation. With or without Saad, The Cedars have all the credentials to assume the three points and edge closer to the 2015 Asian Championship in Australia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 14, 2013, on page 15.




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