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2016 Player Profiles, #6: Sunny

Despite an injury taking Sunny out for half the season, the Nigerian midfielder showed true quality for RSL.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Sunday’s first season in the Claret and Cobalt is a misleading one on paper. He appeared in just 15 of the 34 regular season games for Real Salt Lake (all of them starts), and tallied just a single goal (against Seattle in the second game of the season). The team also had a goal differential in those 15 games of just +1.

But don’t let those points detract from the overall truth.

Sunny’s added more to this team than many other additions over the last few seasons. Prior to his June 22nd injury (one where a head-to-head collision with New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles which resulted in multiple facial fractures), RSL was 8-4-3 with a +1 goal differential. That’s 24 points from 15 games, or 52% of our total points on the season.

During the 13-game run while Sunny’s skull was healing, the squad went 4-4-5 with a -1 goal differential. This coincided with that slump we all witnessed mid-summer, but also the small blip of resurgence towards the end of August that got our hopes up before they were dashed to bits.

Now that the boring numbers are out of the way…

Fortunately for me, I’m writing a profile for a player I originally wrote about when he joined the squad last January. There’s no doubt I was high on Sunny at the time, and I’m a firm believer he lived up to many of my predictions from that first article. Let’s review.

Where I was right: Sunny’s role was, for the most part, alongside Kyle Beckerman (or Luke Mulholland at other times). He was given license to push forward into the attack more often than we might’ve seen Kyle do in the past. He was also charged with winning balls high on the pitch in order to initiate a quicker attack and jumpstart the offense. That “hybrid shuttler” role was also seen quite often, sometimes carrying the ball up the wings, sometimes sitting back to absorb the opposition attack. Lastly, the technical prowess and refinement was seen through his passing and quick integration into the squad.

Where I was wrong: His presence did not, for some reason, allow Kyle to sit back and rest his aging legs as much as I had thought. There were several games where the two played together in which Beckerman was more involved and higher up-field than I would’ve expected. Additionally, the double-pivot was not quite as traditional either. There was never a clear trade-off between the two players for that holding role, and this could be considered an overall detriment to the team. With only four yellow cards and zero reds during those 15 games, Sunny proved he was much more mature with his physical challenges as well.

Oh… and I don’t think any of us could’ve predicted how flamboyant he is with the simulations as well. But let’s not talk about that…

It’s rather clear the Front Office hit this acquisition out of the park given the number of games played and the positive, albeit difficult to see at times, impact Sunny’s had on the team. RSL were clearly better with him on the field than not, and had it not been for that early summer injury and the 13 games lost to it, we may have been sitting a bit prettier when it came time for the playoff crunch.

There’s apparent reason why Stephen Sunday was ranked high in both the Community Player Rankings (7.57, 6th overall) and the RSL Soapbox Writer’s Rankings (7.21, 6th overall). It’s this type of obscure but quality signing that a club can build a team upon. But with rumors swirling about which players are staying and which players are packing, even Sunny could be on the chopping block despite his quality and consistent play.

My advice to Mr. Hansen and Mr. Waibel: find a way to keep Sunny on this roster and as healthy and happy as possible. The days ahead will be a tad brighter if that can be done.