Ethan Sonis is an American player and former FC Dallas youth academy product who now plays the game in Germany with the famous talent-rearing academy SC Freiburg. I recently had the opportunity to ask him some questions.
Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been playing the game? How did it start? Where did it start?
I started playing when I was 3 years old. I come from a soccer family, and even though I was young, my father was insistent and hopeful that I would play. Eventually, he signed me up for a U6 team in South Florida. At first, I was playing just to have fun with my friends. Things changed when we moved to Washington DC, where I began to play in the NCSL league in the area. The league is extremely competitive. I played many years together with Junior Flores, Christian Rodriguez, Chase Gasper, Romain Gall, Calix and others. It was amazing how much talent came out from that area. My family eventually moved to California and while there I was able to continue to play with talented players. During my time in DC and California, I was coached by several amazing coaches, such as Greg Vanney – who is now the head coach for Toronto FC.
What position do you play? What is your favorite position?
I play defensive midfield. I have been played in that position for many years and, along with being my favorite, now it just feels natural. I have also, at various times, played defensive back.
I bring a different type of play to the defensive mid position. I like to call myself a hybrid. I am extremely aggressive and poised on the defensive side, but I can also fire off long passes with great precision and finesse. That is very hard to find in present day soccer.
Please describe for us the differences you’ve noticed between A) the way the game is played in Germany vs United States;
The game in Germany is played with extreme intensity. Essentially, you have to have very quick mental awareness to be able to pass and defend under extreme pressure with a lack of time to make decisions. The game is much more rough – the players are extremely strong and they can dispose you off the ball by simply using their body strength to move you out of position.
B) the differences between footballing cultures in GER versus USA
The footballing culture is a big difference. In Germany, from the 1st division (1. Bundesliga) to the 7th or 8th division, soccer is important for everybody. In our reserve matches at SC Freiburg, sometimes we play for 10,000 people. I played in the reserves at FC Dallas and we were lucky if we got 100 people. The culture is strong in supporting every team, no matter what league they are. There are teams in 4th division with 20,000 to 30,000 people stadiums.
What goals do you have currently as a footballer?
My goals as a footballer are simple – make it to the highest level. I will not stop until I reach the highest level a player can go in professional soccer. I am aware that to get there I need to get better, so I train day and night for that moment. My coaches have often said I am always the first one to come in and the last one to leave, and that’s the sort of mentality I carry. I believe that if you put in enough hours and training, you’ll make it.
If you were called into the U20 squad, how do you believe you could make a difference? What impact do you think you could have?
I think that I could help the squad most in my natural position – defensive midfielder – but with a very defined role of cutting off the opponents attack and linking back and forth with the midfield and wings. During qualifying, at times our team did very well, but when we were under heavy pressure our midfield found it tough to handle. We were better equipped to attack than to defend, and that created holes through the middle where teams were coming unopposed into our defense line. I believe my work rate, aggressiveness, and defensive skills could have helped to contain the opposition.
I enjoy following the team closely, and I do believe that my style could help the team – especially in transition from offense and defense. Oftentimes, coaches struggle to teach and motivate players to have the passion and tenacity to go at each ball at 100%. I like to think that I do that 90 minutes of every match.
My whole career so far has been spent training and preparing for that one chance that I get called up. I hope that one day that opportunity presents itself.
How have you adjusted to life in GER?
The first few months were very hard. I had just turned 18, and was now in a different country with a different language. I am very family oriented and began to really miss my whole family. Luckily, my father was able to find work in Germany so he visits often, which has helped quite a bit. Now, I am better organized and I can speak the language more so than at first, which makes it a little bit easier. The club has helped me with German classes, as well as with the logistics of getting situated and into a daily routine. I also made a lot of friends here, many from different countries like Greece and Slovenia, and it is really good to share experiences.
There are now others at Freiburg as well, including Caleb Stanko and Zack Steffen. How often do you interact with them?
Yes, we see each other quite often. When I first arrived, I spent a lot of time together with Caleb. He was a great help because he had been here for several years already, and he helped with the transition. Unfortunately he got hurt and has been away for more than 6 months. Zack and I have become great friends. We play tons of FIFA, and although he brags that he can beat me, I think he just got lucky a couple of times. Zack is great and I hope to make his transition easier by providing any support I can.
Was it easy to settle in at Freiburg? What motivated you to choose them?
Freiburg is a great little city that is multicultural, has some great universities, and is very green. They are very conscious of the environment and a lot people bike and recycle quite a bit, which is pretty neat.
SC Freiburg academies and their youth setup are considered to be ranked 9th in the world – only behind giants of the game such as Barcelona, Paris St Germain, etc. They give a lot of opportunities to young players because they cannot afford to buy new million dollar players very often (if at all), so they build from the inside – from their youth – and that was a major player in attracting me to come here.
Who is your favorite footballer (either now or all time)? Favorite team?
A lot of people tell me I look and I play like Genaro Gatusso, who used to play for Italy and AC Milan. I’ve been told I have that same intensity and fire in the eyes he had. I’m also a big fan of Mascherano. I have watched him live, and I think I have watched every Youtube video of him at least twice. I love what he brings to the table – the leadership, the intensity and the excellent positioning. On the offensive side I love how Xabi Alonso plays. He is so poised on the ball, and provides such great linking and passing.
As a player, I would love (and strive) to be as close to a hybrid of Mascherano and Xabi Alonso as possible. That is certainly a goal I have, and if I keep working hard I believe I can reach it.