Tenderloin all-immigrant team nurtures up-and-coming soccer star

San Francisco State University sophomore Moheeb Ali scores big in Street Soccer USA Cup

“Moheeeeeeeeeb.”

Once again, the speaker yelled the name of Moheeb Ali after he scored his third goal in the first game of the fifth annual Street Soccer USA Cup – San Francisco on Sunday near Civic Center Plaza.

Ali, a 19 year-old sophomore at San Francisco State University, plays forward in the Tenderloin Street Soccer Club’s all-immigrant team, which was created by Street Soccer USA. The team, sponsored by the company Future Sense during the competition, competed for the first time on Sunday at the event, which was organized by Rec and Park and Street Soccer USA, a non-profit.

Ali is the rising star of the Tenderloin Street Soccer Club and considered the best player of the team by both his teammates and coach. He looks up to Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona’s forward.

“He is one of the most tremendous players I have coached. He is quick, has sharp foot skills and strong shots,” says Ben Anderson, the 33-year-old Tenderloin Street Soccer’s coach.

So quick and strong that, last March and April, Ali did a tryout for the San Francisco Glens Soccer Club and was able to play three games with the first team during pre-season.

Though he was told he did not have enough experience to play in USL League Two, Coach Javier Ayala-Hil told him he should continue going to practices.

Ali would love to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy or the San Jose Earthquakes in Major League Soccer and has even bigger dreams of Spain, where he would love to play for Barcelona.

In the nearer term, Ali hopes to join the San Francisco State University Soccer Team next fall after tryouts in September.

Ali immigrated from Yemen, where he had been playing soccer since he was 7, to the United States in 2014 to live with Najeeb, his father, a driver for Uber and Lyft who immigrated 19 years ago.

He started playing soccer here regularly after the Tenderloin Children’s Playground, which is next to his apartment complex, was renovated by the non-profit.

“Ali is crazy about soccer. He breathes soccer,” said his father Najeeb, who remembers him wearing a Barcelona jersey as young as 3.

He was spotted by Anderson, who was looking players in the neighborhood, and recruited into the Tenderloin Street Soccer Club, a team of foreign players created by Rob Cann, Soccer Street USA’s founder.

“Soccer is logistically and economically not accessible to kids like Moheeb. That’s why we created the Tenderloin Street Soccer Club,” said Cann.

The team previously won the 2017 Street Soccer USA National Cup in Sacramento. But on Sunday, despite scoring many goals and two wins at 11-1 and 8-6 in group stage matches, Ali and his teammates did not qualify for the final after a controversial 9-11 defeat.

“I don’t mind, we have won every match,” said Ali.

“Ali has a good mentality and is a hard worker. I’m not worried about his future,” said Anderson.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Street Soccer USA Cup – San Francisco and information on the sponsorship of Future Sense.

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