Jeff Cunningham Relishes New Challenge in San Antonio
As Major League Soccer’s (MLS) all-time leader in regular-season goals scored with 134, it wouldn’t be too out of the box to think a memorable goal was Jeff Cunningham’s, new player for the North American Soccer League’s (NASL) San Antonio Scorpions, single greatest soccer moment.
He was, after all, a rookie that played in twenty-five games and tied the goals record for rookies with eight (since broken), left the Columbus Crew tied for most goals with United States soccer legend Brian McBride, and also netted two goals against Barclays Premier League club side Fulham F.C. in the 2005 MLS All-Star Game.
But the prolific goal scoring doesn’t factor into his most memorable moments. His favorite experience in soccer has nothing to do with rifling a shot past an outstretched ‘keeper and watching the net ripple. It’s much simpler than that.
“Every day I get up and kick a ball is my single greatest moment,” Cunningham said during a phone interview. “To play football professionally. Every day I get up I just enjoy the game. That’s my biggest moment, just too have such a long career and do something I enjoy.”
Cunningham gets up in the morning to kick a ball around for his new San Antonio team. He joined the Scorpions in July after a stint in Guatemala at CSD Comunicaciones — one that he found rewarding.
“It was great, good people, it’s warm, the football sides of things are great,” he said, also adding, however, that it was tough to be away from his family. “I enjoyed my experience. For young players, that would be a great opportunity to develop.”
Playing for his new NASL team is another good move for Cunningham as he’s familiar with many of the people involved in the organization.
“My agent, after the Guatemala situation, he had this opportunity and it was great because I had a working relationship with the general manager (Michael Hitchcock – president of the Scorpions), as well as I know the coach (Tim Hankinson) from some of the years of MLS, and some teammates I played with at several other clubs,” Cunningham said of the Scorpions.
“I have a good comfort level coming here,” he continued. “It’s great to be back and be close to my family. I’m happy.”
He hopes that happiness and joy of kicking a ball around every day leads to scoring goals — something he feels he is still well and able to do at the age of 35.
“It’s an opportunity to prove something, you know?” Cunningham said. “That’s the motivation for me, I still enjoy the game. I don’t feel like at 35 your career is over. I feel like I’m able to compete with the young boys.”
Cunningham has been lucky to avoid major injuries during his career — one that has spanned 14 years — and feels good about playing in what are typically a soccer player’s twilight years. But if it ever comes to retirement, he knows what he’ll do.
“I still want to compete,” he said plainly. “I’m actually hoping I can be involved in football, coaching at some level, maybe the college level.”
Cunningham mentioned coaching at the pro level, but wasn’t sure, saying with a chuckle that performing at that level provides “a lot of stress.”
For now, however, Cunningham is working on being completely ready, and doing what he does best — scoring goals.
“It’s been good,” he said of his time in San Antonio so far. “I need to get match fit and then get back playing, score some goals, and help the new club.”