Confidence is everything in soccer, especially for goalscorers.
Daniel Salloi knows that all too well. After two fallow years in the final third that yielded just one goal and one assist in 37 MLS appearances, the Hungarian has roared back this season, scoring 16 times and setting up a further eight for Sporting Kansas City.
“Honestly, this is the first year where I started in the season opener and I scored in it. It was just goals and assists after that and as an attacking player, that’s the best medicine you can have," Salloi said of his turnaround in an exclusive interview with 90min.
"It’s the confidence boost you need, it really started off this year for me. Once I got that confidence back, I didn’t really slow down and this is what I want to carry into the Playoffs.”
Luckily, Salloi isn't the sort to let himself get down easily. The fact he's been able to play at a level that put him in the MVP conversation this year, as well as just three goals short in the Golden Boot race, is testament to his character given the struggles of 2020, both on and off the pitch in a challenging year for all.
The Hungarian winger knew he'd rediscover his best form, even if it took a little longer than he'd like.
“Even when I didn’t score the goals I wanted to score, I still knew I would have my chances, I knew I would be in good places. It was just a matter of if I would score them or not. I have confidence," Salloi added.
“It’s tough when you’re an attacking player and the goals don’t come, sometimes you just can’t explain why. This is what separates good players from great players, how long their downfall is. Mine took longer than I wanted it to and this is what I don’t want to happen again. You will have bad games and bad months, but you have to bounce back quicker than what I did.”
Salloi has been named among the finalists for the MVP award, alongside Taty Castellanos, Carles Gil, Hany Mukhtar, and Joao Paulo. For some, this would serve as a distraction, while others could let the acclaim go to their heads. Instead, Salloi seems to thrive off it, using the chase for individual accolades as a motivator when things get tough.
“It definitely helps. I think I’m the type of player that uses this as motivation," he said of the extra attention he's received this year.
“When I need to get myself into the game or I need to push myself, I think about that stuff. Like, I’m supposed to be the MVP, the one who scores the goals, so come on, step it up. I push myself in games like that.
“I think it’s been a great motivation for me, to keep being in the MVP conversation all year long.”
Salloi's form in 2021 was rewarded with his senior debut for the Hungarian national team, coming off the bench in their 4-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to England in September. Walking out in front of 60,000 of his compatriots against what Salloi describes as "one of if not the best teams in the world" was an "awesome feeling", as he puts it. The fulfillment of a childhood dream.
But success in MLS now also inevitably draws attention from Europe at the club level, too. Should Salloi continue his form in the Playoffs and prove a defining factor in a successful MLS Cup run for SKC, there will undoubtedly be those seeking to bring him back across the Atlantic. Something the 25-year-old is keen to do, even if his immediate focus is on the task at hand.
“I’m interested," Salloi admitted when asked about a possible return to Europe.
"I think I’m having a season where many doors will open up for my career and I want to see the options, what’s best for my career. I have one more year of contract at Sporting Kansas City, we’ll see what happens. But I’m open-minded.
“I’m not really worried about it at the moment, because we’re focused on the Playoffs and the team. But when the off-season comes around, you sit down and think about these things, so we’ll see what happens.”
"They say we’re not even going to make the Playoffs. It’s funny at this point."- Daniel Solloi
Not too long ago, SKC head coach Peter Vermes was critical of the fact his team is often overlooked, jumped on like a "super club" when they fail, but largely ignored when they do well.
And it's true that Kansas City are rarely tipped as favorites to win any competition, not least MLS Cup, despite having one of the most potent attacking units in the league and delivering almost every single season since Vermes took over in August 2009.
But according to Salloi, this has now become more a source of amusement among the players, rather than something to be ticked off about.
“We’ve kind of gotten used to it over the years," he said. "I 100 percent agree with what Peter said. It’s weird because if we’re a small club, don’t judge us if we’re doing that bad or we have a couple of games where we’re not winning.
“If you look at power rankings or whatever, every year going into the season, they say we’re not even going to make the Playoffs. It’s funny at this point.
“I think we need more and more years of us finishing first, or making the Playoffs, or winning the Cup, so the league can actually value us more. But, you know, we’re a smaller market than most teams and we need to prove more.”
Though Salloi admitted that even an MLS Cup success this year wouldn't change the league-wide perception of SKC, it would certainly be a good start. To do so, they first need to get past the Vancouver Whitecaps in Round One.
The Canadian side are enjoying a run of just two defeats since Vanni Sartini took interim charge of the club in August and will be a true test of Kansas City's credentials.
But SKC are the hosts, and Salloi has called on his teammates to use the atmosphere at Children's Mercy Park - often considered among the best in MLS - to their advantage.
“I think it’s huge. Every player notices it. When you play at home and your fans are giving this amazing atmosphere that’s constantly loud, the other teams notice it," Salloi said of the SKC fanbase.
“They know this is a tough place to play, it’s not easy to find your best game in our stadium. We need to use that to our advantage.
“Let’s say we beat Vancouver, next game we can already play away and then we’re on the other side of it. So we need to use whatever we can to make a run in the Playoffs.
“Our fans are amazing, they will show up and fill the stadium. We need them to win.
“Many times, you notice it when the stadium isn’t as energized, maybe it’s not full on a weekday. You feel that in yourself, like we need to push more because that part is not 100 percent how it always is.
“Obviously, we’re lucky that we play in a great place, but this is what we need in the Playoffs.”
If the atmosphere in the stadium is intimidating for the opposition, who knows what they think of Vermes, who fiercely defends his players often to his own detriment from a disciplinary standpoint.
Salloi is thankful for the backing he gets from the sidelines, even comparing Vermes' defensive manner to that of Jose Mourinho.
“I don’t mind when he argues for the team, against referees or anyone else,“ he said.
“That’s like what Jose Mourinho has been doing his whole career, it takes the edge off the team. The opponent worries about the coach and the team can get ready quietly.
“So many times, I think Peter is right, but he gets fined for it. It’s tough but we don’t mind it as players because we’re getting prepared and he can do whatever he wants.”
So, with Sporting Kansas City and the rest of the league ready to take the Playoff plunge, what does Salloi think of his team's chances? The question drew a grin from the Hungarian, who is confident SKC finally have the "missing piece" in the MLS Cup puzzle.
He declared: “It’s the Playoffs and anything can happen, but I think this could be the team that has the missing piece.“