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SSFC Spotlight: Alan Soñora scores brace for Independiente during breakout season

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The American midfielder is taking the wheel.

River Plate v Independiente - Copa Diego Maradona 2020 Photo by Rodrigo Valle/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team tends to call-up players from Major League Soccer and Europe, where the talent base is overwhelmingly located. There have been recent inroads into South America, notably with the addition of Brazilian dual-national Johnny Cardoso. Another potential prospect is Alan Soñora, a midfielder that should be on the radar of Gregg Berhalter. The creative 23-year-old is turning heads in the Argentina Primera División, becoming a key piece for 16-time Primera División champions Club Atlético Independiente.

Soñora was born to a “footballing family” in New Jersey and started playing at three years old. His father, Diego, is a former professional who competed in MLS and instilled a sense of “humility and professionalism.” Older brother Joel is a former U.S. youth international currently at Club Atlético Banfield. Growing up, he was at the Boca Juniors academy for six years before moving to Independiente in 2018, with management pushing for his signature after “less than an hour” of training. Sheffield United was reportedly interested in securing his services, but El Rojo rejected the offer for a 20-day trial.

His departure from Boca was reportedly due to tension between his father, a youth coach at the club, and the reserve team manager. “I was not expecting it when they told me that I had to leave Boca,” the midfielder told American Soccer Now. “But luckily, I arrived to Independiente where they treated me well and I was able to keep growing as a footballer and person.”

The first American in club history, Soñora signed a two-year contract with a $15 million release clause and obtained Argentine citizenship in order to not occupy an international roster spot. The 21-year-old made his professional debut in September of 2019, appearing as a substitute in the Round of 16 for the Copa Argentina against Defensa y Justicia. The next season, he would gain more experience, playing in 19 matches across all competitions. His first professional goal came in a Copa de la Liga match, with Defensa y Justicia once again witnessing the milestone.

Last year was a bit of a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an injury. Soñora only featured in eight first-team matches, although four came in the prestigious Copa Sudamericana. Independiente reached the Round of 16, losing to Brazilian power Santos on aggregate. Despite a brief turmoil during negotiations due to salary, the club signed him to a contract extension through December of 2022, with a release clause of $20 million. There was also reported interest from City Football Group.

Now several seasons into his career with significant experience in the reserves, Soñora appears to be on the cusp of a breakthrough and thriving under recently hired manager Julio Falcioni. After beginning the year on the bench and dealing with a positive COVID-19 test, he started the last five matches for an Independiente side that could challenge for another league title. Prior to the international break, the 23-year-old notched a brace in a 3-0 victory over Club Atlético Colón and was named to the league’s Best XI for two straight weeks.

In the 31st minute of the match, he latched onto a rebound at the top of the box. His right-footed volley dipped and knuckled into the bottom corner. Nine minutes later Soñora hit a perfect free kick that just barely climbed over the wall and froze the goalkeeper, a product of countless hours in training and reserve team match experience.

“I am very happy, especially because we had to turn the page quickly [after losing to Atlético Tucumán],” he said following the brace. “The other day we did not have a good game, and we needed to turn as soon as possible. Luckily, today I think we played a good game and we were able to take all three points… I felt comfortable in [the double pivot]. You always want to play and try to help where the team needs it… [Independiente captain Silvio Romero] always tells me to [take free kicks] in training and, well, luckily today I was able to do it.”

The performances have fans and media questioning how long Soñora will stay in the lineup. He appears to be a favorite of the new manager, a part of Independiente’s young core that is thriving under Falcioni’s tutelage. As his star begins to rise, interest and eventual call-ups from the USMNT could also be in the near future.

Eligible for Argentina and possibly Italy, Soñora has yet to make an international appearance at any level. He is open to playing for the United States, telling American Soccer Now that the experience would be “wonderful,” particularly if his brother is also in the lineup. Despite his interest, there has yet to be any contact from federation.

“I know I have to keep working,” he recently shared with Arch Bell of Marca. “I have to keep improving and playing in this way for [Berhalter] to call me. It’s the dream I have and even more to be able to play alongside my brother in the national team. We have to keep working, waiting for the team to come… You can see the team has grown a lot. It is growing more and more and beating Mexico is very good.”

A left-footed midfielder, Soñora plays an attacking role but is also capable of lining up at the number six, box-to-box, and winger positions. According to Olé, he is a “classic enganche” (also referred to as a “hitch”) that “executes [dead balls] with precision, reads the game well, and often makes passes between the lines to enable his teammates.” For Independiente, Falcioni is deploying him as the more aggressive “steering wheel” in the “double-five” (a double pivot of sorts). Distribution is the strongest part of his game, hitting a variety of precise balls and unlocking defenses. His development was held back by “slow physical growth,” causing him to stay in the reserves longer than others.

Described as more technical than his older brother, the younger Soñora is an excellent dribbler and beginning to increase his influence in the final third. “I try to play with a Riquelme style,” he told Marca. “I like to reach the goal, [assist], and score goals.”

Something of a late-bloomer, Soñora has been mentioned as a potential national team player for years, not quite making enough appearances to merit a call-up. His creativity could be a useful asset, becoming more appealing after a few underwhelming showings in World Cup qualifying. With a few more multi-goal performances, his introduction to the program may come sooner than expected.