Posted On February 5, 2017 by PUSC
by: Steve Wilson, Sports Editor – The Press Tribune
Imagine spending your teenage years living on your own, with a couple of friends you work with, in a foreign country, not knowing the language.
Your job as an academy soccer player is to compete, and hold your own against the best and brightest prospects in the nation. You’re constantly graded and could be released at any time. Could you handle the pressure?
To say Granite Bay resident Cody Sundquist grew up in a hurry, well that’s simply an understatement.
The former Grizzlies soccer standout moved to Florence, Italy when he was 14 and he’s spent the past three seasons playing for the ACF Fiorentina primavera academy teams working his way from the under-15 squad to the under-17 team and finally onto the U19 roster this year.
“It was a complete culture shock at first, but I love everything about it,” Sundquist admitted. “The soccer over there is amazing, but I didn’t know the language when I first arrived, I had never lived on my own before and it took a little while to get used to.”
Not knowing much about the Italian culture or how to speak the native tongue, Sundquist spent his first few months with his new team learning Italian alongside all of the other foreign players.
“There’s a few foreign players who know a little bit of English, but not many,” Sundquist acknowledged. “The coaches and players don’t, so you have to learn Italian to be able to communicate with them, on and off the field.”
In fact, there’s only one other U.S. athlete on Sundquist’s team, who’s from Los Angeles.
“The rest of the kids are from Africa, France, Spain, Slovenia and a few other countries over there,” Sundquist pointed out. “It’s a diverse group.”
While his speech lessons have helped develop Sundquist’s abilities to communicate and order food from shops in Florence, the academy’s training on the pitch has made him a more complete futbol player.
“It’s definitely more technical and tactical,” he admitted. “There’s more physicality as well, but the biggest difference from soccer over here and the sport over there is the technical ability. There’s a lot of different styles, so you have to cope with that. Whereas here there’s usually the same 4-3-3 scheme for every team.”
Sundquist plays in the midfield — a position that requires speed, precise ball control and passing, along with stout defensive abilities. Those are all qualities he possesses, but the 17-year-old must also make a case for playing time as he contends with some of the top competition in his organization every day.
“He’s competing against the under-18 Italian national team captain and a Slovakian kid they signed for $250,000,” pointed out Paul O’Brien, Granite Bay’s current soccer coach and Sundquist’s former Placer United coach. “So that’s his competition. But in a way, that’s good for him. They brought him back because he’s done really well.
“He’s technically sound,” O’Brien added. “But that’s like comparing apples to oranges from their league to the style of play over here. There, it’s about game awareness and competitiveness. There’s lots of kids with his ability, but who can bring that awareness to the field with them? I think he’s got the mental toughness to make it.”
It’s beneficial for Sundquist to be so mentally tough.
The european academies put young players into a competitive caldron, a culture of constant improvement in which they either survive and advance or are discarded. It’s not easy, but it is one that sorts out the real prodigies — those capable of playing at an elite international level — from the merely gifted. With just one season left before he turns 18, Sundquist hopes to be the former.
“The goal is to get a contract,” he confessed. “Usually when you turn 18, that’s when they decide if you’re going to get one or not. I’m 17 now, so I’m crossing my fingers, but it’s like one in a million.
“If I didn’t get it, I would definitely continue playing back in the U.S. at the collegiate level, but I’m hoping I can pull it off.”
Growing up in the Lincoln and Granite Bay areas, Sundquist spent a half decade with Placer United’s Soccer Club. He earned star recognition prior to his freshman season at Granite Bay High as he joined the NorCal Premier Player Development Program (PDP). That’s when he was first noticed by Italian scouts.
“I was playing in the Bay Area and the head scout from the academy saw me and basically recruited me out there for a trial,” Sundquist explained. “I had one week, but I loved it and they liked me, so it all kind of came together.”
He was able to play one season of soccer on the Grizzlies varsity team in his freshman year before he left for Italy. That was the season Granite Bay won the section title behind a thrilling finish in the finals — a 2-1 victory over Jesuit.
“I’m still very proud of that team,” he admitted. “That’s why I still try to make it out to these games.”
Although his busy schedule doesn’t allow for much travel, when Sundquist does decide to fly home, usually for Christmas and a short summer break, he has to endure long plane flights and a few tarmac delays.
“It’s 13 hours, so I just try to pass the time as best as I can with movies and such,” Sundquist stated. “That’s without any delays. But I’m just happy to do it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I wouldn’t trade it away.”
While his futbol career forced him away from Granite Bay, Sundquist has still maintained his grades. He is in the midst of his final semester of online coursework through Roseville’s Independence High School before he graduates in the spring.
That should be right around the time when he finds out if he will receive a contract and continue his career or move back to the States.