CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Monday, January 13, 2014
Giuseppe Funicello may not have paved the road to leagues touching the Arctic Circle, but he's certainly opening doors like few others before him.
Sean Reynolds was discovered through a program run by SoccerViza which is run by Joe Funicello, an American professional player who recently played for Jaro in Finland's top flight. The goal of the program is to match potential professional players with scouts from the icy North.
Reynolds, 23, had just about given up on his dream of playing soccer, settled into a regular, real world job and was looking at taking up coaching. Then he gave it one last shot, and he struck proverbial gold.
"It's almost fairy tale like," Reynolds told YA. "Kid plays college and PDL, one terrible season of USL Pro, goes home to coach and work at Home Depot till he can find a Graduate's position, then takes one more shot with SoccerViza and now I'm here. I wanted to quit and concentrate on coaching and getting my licenses, but now I'm living my dream."
Reynolds' first season of pro soccer at VSI Tampa Bay did not go as planned, but the latest opportunity got him spotted by a scout for Icelandic Premier League team FH, who offered him a short trial period with the team to see his potential. The team liked what they saw, and Reynolds was snatched up into a one-year contract.
"The trial was great," said Reynolds. "The professionalism of the team was unbelievable. The team and staff were very hospitable and gave me a chance. I ended up getting along well with everyone. The level of play is much higher than back home. I had gained quite a bit of experience for my first year in USL, but the pace of the game and technique and skill level of the players is much higher."
A testament to his observation of the level of play for his new teammates, FH finished second in the league last season, narrowly missing out on the top spot, and a chance to compete in the Champions League. As it is, FH's second place finish put them into the Europa League, giving Reynolds an opportunity to go from working at Home Depot to one of the biggest club competitions in the world in less than one year.
"... Hopefully I'll be in the starting 11 or have my chance of playing in the Europa league," Reynolds said with a laugh. "No, I'm very excited for that. That is a dream come true. Any real footballer would love to say he played in the Champions or Europa League. Those tournaments are the primal stage."
At 6'2 and coupled with his natural strength and speed, Reynolds can cut an imposing figure in central defense. Recognizing his natural talents and wanting to complete himself, he began focusing more on his technique as a player when he was a teenager. He gradually turned himself from a central defender into being able to play several positions, including on the flank and in center midfield.
"I'm a very athletic player but not short of technique," said Reynolds. "I've always been told, "You're very athletic, you're very athletic, you're very athletic-" so over the past six years I've concentrated on my technique so much rather than my physical game that comes naturally to me.
"My best position is center back. I played there in college for two years and holding mid for almost another two. I've been experimented with at Right Back with my pace, but I'm not the same player there as I am in the center."
While he credits Funicello with giving him the opportunity, Reynolds put in the work to seize the opportunity when it came to him. His perseverance and work ethic paid off, and in the end, while there was some surprise that he was offered a contract, it was also validation for the long hours spent on the practice field.
"I'm a little surprised, and at the same time I'm not," Reynolds concluded. "I'm surprised because this was always the dream I had, playing overseas. I've worked so hard to get here. Long days and nights at the fields with other teammates, who now play in the USL. I've sacrificed so much, along with my family, to make this dream possible. I've always felt that it was just a matter of time."
The Icelandic season is currently underway with domestic cup games, until the league begins play in May.