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How a Somali refugee ended up as No. 2 pick for the Earthquakes

San Jose takes Siad Haji, 19, a promising winger from Virginia Commonwealth University


Siad Haji (10) was taken No. 2 overall Friday, Jan. 11, by the San Jose Earthquakes in the MLS college draft. (Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics)

By ELLIOTT ALMOND

Somali refugee Siad Haji’s long soccer journey will continue in San Jose after the teenager became the No. 2 overall pick today in the Major League Soccer draft.

The Earthquakes grabbed the 5-foot-8 midfielder from Virginia Commonwealth after expansion FC Cincinnati took UCLA forward Frankie Amaya with the No. 1 overall pick in Chicago.

Haji, who turned 19 in December, is part of the Quakes’ continuing effort to rebrand themselves with young players who will be groomed by new coach Matias Almeyda, the former manager of Mexico’s famed Guadalajara.

In two seasons at Virginia Commonwealth, Haji had seven goals and 18 assists in 37 games. He was the Atlantic 10’s midfielder of the year as a junior in 2018 and a first-team All-American by TopDrawerSoccer.

Haji, who transferred to VMC from Division III New England College, learned to play soccer while in a refugee camp in Kenya where he was born. He said his parents fled war-torn Somali in making their way to America.

The winger came to the United States at age 4 when the family settled in New Hampshire. His mother works in a hotel whereas his father can’t work because of an eye condition. He told reporters that his parents don’t speak English.

A member of the under-20 U.S. national team, Haji credits his parents for his rise to professional soccer.

“To have my dad be a mentor is what drives me,” he said during a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “To be 19, I’m mature to come from a family that didn’t have anything.”

Haji signed with single-entity MLS as a Generation Adidas player, meaning his contract doesn’t count against San Jose’s salary budget.

He has few memories of the refugee camp. But one Haji can’t forget is joining other Somali kids to play soccer in the dirt.

“We didn’t have a Nike ball,” he said. “We grabbed a bunch of plastic bags and wrapped them into a ball. It didn’t bounce much.”

Cal defender Sam Junqua of Saratoga was selected eighth overall by the Houston Dynamo and Stanford forward Amir Bashti of Cupertino was taken at No. 48 by defending champion Atlanta United.

The Quakes also got Seattle University midfielder Sergio Rivas, a U.S. citizen born in Mexico, and Simon Fraser forward Mamadi Camara, a Canadian citizen born in Guinea, in the second round. They will need to sign them to contracts before they’re counted on the roster.

“We got exactly the players that we wanted to select,” Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli said in a statement. “These are the players that Matias, our coaching staff, and Ian Russell (coach of USL affiliate Reno) felt strongly about.”

San Jose also has the No. 50 and No. 74 overall picks in the upcoming third and fourth rounds.

Source: The Mercury News

 

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