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06 / 16

Brian Cunningham determined to never give up on his dream

WRITTEN BY: Nick Barnowski
PUBLISHED ON: June 16, 2014

At 23-years-old, the world can seem like a big place.

Considering his soccer career has seen him travel nearly 7,000 miles in the past two years, Brian Cunningham surely understands that concept.

Now with Lansing United, the dynamic forward whose personality shines on and off the field has found comfort in a place that blew his expectations away.

The journey soccer players take is often arduous. Whether the ladder to success is the height of an anthill or Everest, there’s never a direct route. Cunningham knows this.

“It’s been a really long road,” he said. “A real test of faith. I’ve had to dig in really deep and look for spiritual guidance.”

How Cunningham handles the adversity he’s faced with is what helps separate him from the pack.

His strong self-belief and incredible work ethic has led him to East Lansing, a place he admitted he had to look up on Wikipedia because he knew so little about it.

Two of his current teammates, Julian Myers and Godwin Addai, introduced him to United head coach Eric Rudland. Addai connected Rudland with Myers while Myers told Cunningham about the upstart NPSL franchise.

“I was really stoked,” Cunningham said. “I looked up Eric, the whole setting, and what was going on, and I was really interested.”

Little did he know he’d turn out to love the area while also being a fan favorite.

It’s easy to see why.

“You never know when it’s over,” he said. “If you’re not having fun doing anything you’re doing, then don’t do it. That’s how my personality comes out when I’m playing. I take chances, take risks, and joke around.”

Born in Queens, New York in a Jamaican hospital to Jamaican parents, Cunningham identifies strongly with the culture his mom and dad instilled in him. He holds dual-citizenship and visited Jamaica often throughout his childhood.

“It’s the upbringing,” he said. “Even though you go to school with American kids, you still come home to the principles and things your Jamaican parents have.

“I still strongly identify with my Jamaican culture because it’s a part of who I am.”10424479_685906291457760_1453310530_n

Cunningham said his was of life was totally different from the typical American way of life. There were certain things he couldn’t do that his friends could and certain things he didn’t have that his friends did, but he was always thankful for his lifestyle.

“You go to my house and you smell jerk or curry or brown stew and hear reggae music playing,” he described. “It’s pretty cool.”

The 5-10 offensive catalyst starred in soccer growing up. At Landstown High School in Virginia Beach, Va., Cunningham served as team captain for two seasons and was named to the All-Beach District Team in 2007 and 2008. He also helped lead his team to an eastern region and district championship.

Cunningham earned interest out of high school from Howard University in Washington, D.C., the first historically black college to win an NCAA national title in the sport.

“I was recruited heavily to go to Howard which influenced my decision,” he said. “Historically, Howard had a successful program. They have a Caribbean influence which made me look at it twice and it was really attractive.”

Cunningham played two seasons for Howard before transferring to Virginia Tech. While he achieved a degree in business management and entrepreneurship, his soccer career as a Hokie was not as successful as he wanted it to be. He appeared in only six games in the 2010 season, registering one shot. The next year, he was redshirted.

He sought professional opportunities on his own because he didn’t attend an MLS combine session nor did he have an agent. Belief helped the Jamaican-American pull through when the forecast for his soccer future was cloudy.

“You have adversity, and you have two reactions,” he said. “It either motivates you to work harder the next day, or there’s some days where you wake up and you really don’t want to [work].

“I’ve never told myself I can’t do it. Even though things haven’t always gone my way, I know that things always happen for a reason.”

Cunningham found solace by heading back to Jamaica to play for Harbor View FC of the Red Stripe Premier League, the country’s first division football league. The club plays in Kingston, the vibrant capital city of Jamacia, and its ground, Harbour View Stadium, was the first world-class stadium in the country.

There, as a 22-year-old, he grew as a player and a man.

“I had to do things, get my own things, and when things went bad, I had to figure it out on my own,” he remarked. “It was a crash course in life.”

He had a successful stint in Jamaica both on and off the field. He got on the Jamaican national team’s radar and was scouted for its U-23 Olympic team. Today they still keep in contact with him and he hopes a senior team opportunity could come his way in the future.

Perhaps more important was the strides he made mentally. It was in Jamaica where Roy Simpson, an important figure in the country’s national football landscape, introduced him to the saying, “What you think about, you bring about.”

“I realized that even after being a pro in Jamaica, I was kind of unhappy with a few things,” Cunningham said. “[Roy] introduced me to a few things and philosophies and concepts to just think about myself to help me with being a professional. Now, instead of thinking about what I don’t want, I can clearly take steps toward getting results. Psychologically it helped me out a lot.”

It’s proven helpful this season. Through eight games, Cunningham hasn’t found the back of the net in a United uniform despite 13 shots (second on the team). He’s kept his mind clear by not paying much attention to the stat table while keeping a positive attitude.

“Once one falls, they’ll all fall,” he said with a laugh. He’s hoping future professional opportunities will fall his way as well.

“I’ve always held on to my dream. I’ve never let go of my vision.”