This past November, Zachary Sukunda was announced as the historic first signing of HFX Wanderers. Still only 23, his career has taken him to Montreal, Sweden, Australia and come this April, Halifax, NS. With so many experiences under his belt, we couldn't wait to pick his brains about his move to Wanderers, his thoughts on youth football in Canada, his time spent abroad as a pro and much, much more.
I’d like to start by asking you how this move came about. I’m sure you were aware of the CPL and keeping an eye on it from afar, when did you first know a move to the Wanderers was on the cards?
-- Well, I had been following the progress of the CPL for about a year. This summer, I was in Australia when they started announcing coaches. That's when it started becoming real for me. I did a lot of research on coach Hart, he is extremely well respected and his life has been filled with football. I think he will be able to help me bring my game to another level. I knew that Halifax was going to be the team I would make my priority.
How much are you looking forward to working with Stephen Hart? He has a fantastic reputation in and around the Canadian game and is on record saying that he likes to develop young talent, such as yourself.
-- Extremely excited. I think he has tons of knowledge to pass on, and from what we've talked about he likes to play a style of football that I love. I have a lot of pro experience all over the world, but at the end of the day I still have a lot to learn. I'm only 23 and I think he is the coach to learn from.
You have experienced the ups and downs of youth soccer in Canada. How do you think the system will change with the introduction of the CPL?
-- I think a lot more players will feel they have more of a goal to strive towards. I don't know what to expect from the system changing or anything but a lot of teams, agents and coaches at the youth level often exaggerate contacts they have in Europe. A lot of promises are made saying 'I can get you into so and so club' but they never end up being true. I think now, with the CPL, if a player really wants it, he doesn't need to go to another country where he knows no-one. He can go and work towards signing a contract in CPL.
Absolutely, and that can only be a positive. You spent several years in Montreal early on in your career. Do you feel there’s enough interest in the sport in Quebec to sustain a CPL team as well as an MLS team?
--100%. I think it would struggle if it was in a massive city like Montreal where there is already an MLS, CFL and NHL team. However if you go somewhere a bit smaller with none on those it would definitely work!
After your time in Montreal came to a close, you decided to move to Sweden to play for Umea FC. How difficult was it making this transition at such a young age?
--It was tough, honestly. Moving to the unknown is never easy, but you have to do what you have to do. FC Montreal losing their USL team was hard on everyone. Coaches and players. So no matter how hard it was to move away, I am simply grateful I had the opportunity to keep playing professionally and doing what I love.
With this being your first taste of football outside of Canada, did you notice any difference in the style of play abroad? How did it compare to the quality of Canadian players you’d been used to?
-- It took some getting used to. The style of play is much different. One thing that always interested me was warm-ups. Throughout my whole career, our team would just run for our warm-up. In Sweden, never did we just run, it was always with a ball. Whether it was passing patterns, technical drills, it was always with a ball. That 15-20 minutes every day adds up.
I think it makes the level of play just generally better, faster with less sloppiness. That was the biggest difference from USL to Sweden.
Following your season in Sweden, you decided to move to Hume, and then Northcote City, in Australia. How would you sum up your experiences playing football down-under?
-- I really enjoyed it there, the facilities were great, and the level was impressive as well. I was looking to go back but as the CPL progressed I definitely wanted to be part of it.
I’d like to now talk about you as a player. From what I’ve read and seen, you’re an attacking full-back who can play on either side of the defense. Would this be a fair assessment?
-- Yes, my main position is full-back, either on the left or the right. Absolutely, very very attacking. I love to get up and down the flanks all game.
Has Stephen Hart talked to you about what role he’d like to see you playing for the Wanderers during the upcoming season? -- Yes we have spoken quite a bit. He knows that I am a versatile player and am comfortable in multiple positions, so we will have to wait and see where he sees me best in the team's system!
Finally, I’d like to have a quick discussion about the modern full-back. It’s a position that has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years, to the point where it’s arguably the most important role in modern football. Is this something you’ve been conscious of recently?
-- I watch a lot of football, no matter what league it is, and you can really see how the full-back position is becoming more and more important. I am conscious of how big of a role it is but I'm really excited about it. I have an image in my head of how Coach Hart wants to play and I do believe it will be fast and attacking. If that's the case, full-back will be an extremely fun position.
Growing up in England, I always thought of full-backs as being the least remarkable players on the pitch. But then the Brazilians came along. Cafu, Roberto Carlos... these players completely changed my attitude towards that position. Who were your earliest heroes in football?
-- I liked so many players of all different positions. I liked Pele a lot as a kid, I even wrote my grade 7 speech on him. But the more I grow up the more I appreciate different players, now l love watching attacking full-backs. Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, Marcelo are all players I really admire!
Thanks again for for answering all these questions, Zach. I think I speak on behalf of every HFX Wanderers fan when I say that we can't wait to see you in action in April. Best of luck for pre-season.
And finally, to everyone that's read this blog in its infancy, thank you for giving it a chance. I assure you that it's appreciated. There'll be more content in the New Year, including a chat with third-round draft pick Christian Oxner, and reactions to the latest Wanderers & CPL news in what promises to be a busy few months.