Beckham Sunderland arrived in Barcelona expecting to relax and spend time with his older brother, another professional soccer player, before reporting to FC Cincinnati’s preseason camp later this month.
What he didn’t expect was being asked if he had interest in training with a Spanish team for a couple weeks.
It was an instant yes.
Sunderland, the first FCC Academy player to practice with the first team in 2019 and the club’s first MLS Homegrown signing in 2020, became the first Cincinnati player to train with a Spanish side last month when he linked up with Espanyol’s Juvenil A – Under 19 team.
“It’s been great so far,” said the 17-year-old goalkeeper. “It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m learning a lot on the field. Off the field, I’m also starting to pick up a new language, Spanish.”
The keeper arrived at Espanyol on Jan. 11 with no official end date. Once he had approval from FCC, his parent club, Sunderland began training with the Espanyol youth team – an opportunity to play alongside the future talents in one of the world’s top leagues.
“It’s a really good experience for him,” FCC goalkeeper coach Jack Stern said. “Any experiences that we can expose our goalkeepers to and give them opportunities to learn new things and broaden their horizons is a good thing.”
Stern said he’s spoken with Sunderland and the Espanyol goalkeeper coach to hear feedback about the experience. Being in a different environment allows Sunderland to build on his strengths while learn new ideas.
“In goalkeeper training, there’s a lot of new techniques, techniques that I haven’t necessarily used before, so it’s been good to experiment with those,” the teenager said. “Their goalkeeper coach has been great. He speaks English, so that’s been helping me out.”
Stern reiterated the importance of players experiencing opportunities outside of their normal environment. Sunderland visiting his brother in Spain, only to get a chance to train with an Espanyol youth team, is a perfect example.
“Obviously, we feel good about the way we work with our goalkeepers in Cincinnati, but we’re also aware that when he goes to different places, he’s going to see different things, both good and bad,” Stern said. “We want to expose him to as many situations as possible. With someone that young, we’d like to help in his education about the game and mold him as we can.”
This isn’t the first time an Orange and Blue player has trained with a club overseas. In 2019, former goalkeeper Spencer Richey trained with Crystal Palace FC for two weeks following the MLS regular season.
Both Crystal Palace and Espanyol should be familiar to Cincinnati fans after the clubs visited Nippert Stadium for international friendlies in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
“Whenever we can do this, especially with someone as young as Beckham, who’s in the formative stages of his career, it’s just a really good opportunity to give him a different experience,” Stern said.
Sunderland, who’s entering his fourth week training with Espanyol, doesn’t have a confirmed end date with the Spanish club. The only thing he knows is that he’s “definitely looking forward” to his first full MLS season and joining his Orange and Blue teammates later this month.
At only 17, it’s worth remembering he’s only just beginning his professional career. For example: FCC’s returning starting keeper, Przemysław Tytoń, turned 34 in January. Considering Cincinnati began its Academy in Fall 2019, Sunderland’s rise into the first team is an encouraging sign for the team’s future.
“Everyone at the club is really proud,” Stern said. “We’re proud of the fact we have our first Homegrown player, which is an important thing to do. I’m obviously proud that it’s a goalkeeper, someone that we really believe in and we think has a really bright future at the club.
“Whenever you start an academy, the goal of that academy is to produce players for the first team to help the first team. We’re really excited about Beckham, excited he was the first Homegrown player and, if he stays on the right path, there’s a future in MLS with Cincinnati for him.”
Of course, all of that remains in the goalkeeper’s future. As for his present, he said he’s enjoying the real reason why he went to Spain.
“It’s amazing spending time with (my brother),” he said. “We spend a lot of time apart from each other, so it’s great to be over here training, but even better to be spending time with him. I’m definitely enjoying that.”