Thursday 19 April 2018

Zayed living the American dream as he hopes to earn a shot at playing in the MLS

Former League of Ireland striker has been called back into the Libyan squad

Eamon Zayed, pictured during his Shamrock Rovers days, brought his shooting boots to the USA, where he impressed this year with Indy Eleven Picture: Sportsfile
Eamon Zayed, pictured during his Shamrock Rovers days, brought his shooting boots to the USA, where he impressed this year with Indy Eleven Picture: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Eamon Zayed is living the American dream - or at least a version of it. A year after joining Indy Eleven, the future of the North American Soccer League (NASL) has been cast into serious doubt as US Soccer continues negotiations about whether or not to sanction what would be its seventh campaign.

These are uncertain times for the teams in what is essentially the second tier behind the Major League Soccer (MLS).

Ultimately, that is where the well-travelled Zayed wants to end up playing, but having turned 33 in October he knows that time isn't exactly on his side.

Zayed has taken quite the route on his way to America, but after playing in Ireland, Iran and Malaysia, he feels very much at home in Indiana.

The Dublin native doesn't tend to spend too long in the one place. Of the 13 clubs that he has played for across his 16-year career, Bray Wanderers was the only one that he spent more than two seasons with.

Having scored 54 goals in his four years at the Carlisle Grounds, it was there that Zayed really forged his reputation.

He would go on to have spells with Drogheda United, during which he won the league and Setanta Sports Cup in 2007, before moving to Sporting Fingal in 2008, where a year later he picked up an FAI Cup medal.

Successful

Another successful spell in the league then followed as Zayed scored 26 goals in his 36 games with Derry City, but he soon turned his attention to playing in Iran, which coincided with him making his debut for Libya.

Zayed was a regular face in the Ireland U-21 side, but despite scoring five goals in his 12 appearances, he never quite made the step up to senior level. It was then that he decided to accept a call from Libya, who he qualifies to play for through his grandparents.

Having impressed in his early days with Libya in 2011, Zayed found himself out in the cold and unable to add to his eight caps, until his performances in the NASL again caught his national's teams attention.

Bagging 15 goals and six assists for Indy Eleven last season proved that there is life in the old dog yet and he was understandably delighted to earn an international recall.

"I got called back into the squad on November 13, a World Cup qualifier against Tunisia," Zayed recalls.

"Our (club) final was on November 15 in America, so I had to make a decision and I decided to stay in America because that's what I worked on throughout the year.

"Libya hadn't called me up since September 2013 and then they changed managers. A new manager came in after September 2013, didn't want anyone over the age of 30 and that ruled me out.

"They sacked him in September or October and brought in a new manager who called me back in.

"I was in touch with the federation and told them my situation. From what I got back, they will call me into the next squad, which is positive."

The international recall was the icing on the cake of what has been a positive year all round for Zayed and despite the fact that his club face testing times over the coming weeks, he is confident that he impressed enough last season to earn a contract elsewhere - if indeed it does come to it.

"I've been fortunate with the year I've had," he says.

"If the year hadn't gone well, it would have been an anxious Christmas period and New Year period as I wouldn't know what's going on with the club and stuff like that, but it's gone well.

"I have another year in Indy Eleven. They're going to play in a league, whether it's the NASL or the USL (United Soccer League), no matter what.

"Worst case scenario, if they were to not play next year, I've done well enough that I'll get another team in America next year. That's ultimately where I want to play because I have enjoyed it and it's going well."

The 'Moneyball' approach is prevalent in US soccer, as well as other American sports, like baseball. The idea has also been introduced in Europe, with some clubs in Germany putting a greater emphasis on player statistics.

According to Zayed, that bodes well for him because his stats were impressive last season. MLS clubs continue to scout around for the best players in the NASL and Zayed does hope to get a chance to play among America's elite.

"There's an agent on the lookout for me and he's spoken to a few MLS clubs," he explains.

"They love stats over there, that's what they're into. They look at stats more than performances at times. They're massively into stats over there - not just goals, but also assists - and my stats were quite good this year.

"There are clubs looking, but whether they make a move or not I'm not so sure. There is not a massive gap between NASL and MLS. We played a couple of MLS teams in the US Open Cup, like the Chicago Fire where it went to penalties and we should've won.

"The American players are pretty similar. Possibly in MLS they have more football IQ than NASL, they make better decisions.

"The foreigners are pretty similar, bar the high-profile players like Steven Gerrard or David Villa.

"I actually feel the foreigners in NASL are better because they still want to play and still want to give 100pc, whereas some in MLS look at it as a last pay cheque.

"Stats are in my favour and MLS teams definitely do look for just a goalscorer. I would never rule it out, but it's difficult to make that transition as they just see you going in initially as a NASL player."

Zayed last played in Ireland with Sligo Rovers in 2014 and for all of the problems that the NASL faces, he is adamant that it is run better than the League of Ireland.

"Everything is done as a professional club should do it. As a whole, the league is just better equipped and more professionally run," he insists.

Zayed isn't ruling out a return home to eventually finish his career in Ireland, but for now his focus remains very much on continuing his American dream.

Factfile

Date of birth: October 4, 1983 (33)

Place of birth: Dublin

Played 12 times for Ireland U-21s, scoring five goals

Qualified to play for Tunisia through his father and Libya through his grandparents

Made Libyan debut in October 2010 and scored first goal against Equatorial Guinea in September 2013

Won League of Ireland title with Drogheda United in 2007 as well as Setanta Sports Cup in same year

Won FAI Cup with Sporting Fingal in 2009

l Crowned PFAI Players' Player of the Year in 2011 and Young Player of the Year in 2003

Irish Independent

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