The rookie season is difficult enough for a young professional athlete. If, however, your club is also an experimental hybrid of academy and professional functions playing in an unfamiliar league, and a handful of your teammates are rookies too, you'll have the experience of Zachary Sukunda and FC Montreal in 2015.
New to the USL last year, and established to be a final step in the academy system of Major League Soccer's Montreal Impact, FC Montreal struggled to find footing early on. In a recent chat Sukunda told ICS, "The first few games, it was a bit complicated for us, and it took some time to get used to, but I think that's normal."
Indeed, Le bleu-blanc-noir went winless in its first five matches, scoring only two goals. But then a first-ever win arrived, a 1-0 home result against perennial contenders Charleston Battery. Consistent results did not follow soon, but eventually Montreal flexed its goal-scoring muscles.
In July they defeated Pittsburgh 4-2, Saint Louis 5-2, and familiar rivals Toronto by a hard-fought 1-0 margin. "The vibe in the locker room was obviously getting much better; we were starting to get more confidence," Sukunda said of the newfound winning ways.
August brought another three-game winning streak, including a signature 4-0 victory at high-flying Louisville.
The season ended on a bit of a sour note for FC Montreal, however, with the second of two hefty defeats to the Harrisburg City Islanders. "That's going to change this year," Sukunda remarked with confidence. "That's going to change this year. This year we know exactly what to expect and we've really no excuse for a slow start."
Despite complaints from fans in 2015 that the home ground - the training pitch outside Stade Saputo - did not inspire professionalism, Sukunda found the upside, saying that the experience created more of a "stepping stone" between the academy and the bright lights of MLS and other big leagues.
Regrdless, FC Montreal will play most of its 2016 home matches at Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard, the nearby home of the Impact during its own stint in the USL, years ago. "We've changed complexes now and we have truly amazing facilities," Sukunda said, "so we're really getting put into the best situation."
Asked about FC Montreal's standing in the community, Sukunda was also upbeat, talking about the increased awareness of the club among soccer fans in the city and on social media. "I think it's growing, I really do think it's growing."
FC Montreal kicks off its sophomore season on Friday, March 25, at home to Bethlehem Steel FC.
Watch out for the full interview with Zachary Sukunda on an upcoming episode of The USL Show.