Universal appeal on soccer field

Hammond All-County player Mostafa Ebrahimnejad recently returned from Iran, where he made an impressive showing in tryouts for the Under-19 Iranian national team.

September 28, 2005|By RICK BELZ | RICK BELZ,SUN REPORTER

Mostafa Ebrahimnejad's life revolves around family, religion and soccer, and sometimes the first two impinge upon the soccer.

A Muslim, the Hammond All-County center-midfielder must fast from sunup to sundown during the holy month of Ramadan, which normally occurs during the middle of soccer season. The fasting includes no water.

"It only interfered with two games last season," said Ebhimnejad, a Mississippi-born junior who led the Bears to third place, their best finish ever in the county standings. "I remember eating a Kit Kat bar as soon as the sun went down during the Oakland Mills game last year. It's tough, but you get through it."

His brother Abbas, a sophomore, also plays for the Bears and scored the winning goal against Oakland Mills that day. Both recently returned from Iran, where they met for the first time their extended family, 70 relatives on their father's side and 30 on their mother's side.

Never mind that they missed the first week of school and all of preseason soccer training, the trip was well worth it to them, and they hope to return next summer.

"It was nothing but eating in Iran," said Abbas, who plays stopper.

Fluent in Farsi, the language of Iran, Mostafa, 17, did take time out to try out for the Under-19 Iranian national team and was told he would have made the team if he could have lived in Iran for four months.

It's not hard to see why he made an impression.

Ebrahimnejad is a technically sound player who possesses both speed and power, and at 6 feet 1 and 165 pounds, is a powerful force in the air. Skilled with both feet and possessing a high work rate, his excellent field vision allows him to play through balls and long balls accurately.

"Without a doubt, Mostafa is our most talented player," said Pat Preziotti, a senior midfielder. "He spots our flaws and tells us how to correct them. His encouragement picks us up."

Despite missing the first week of school to go to Iran, Ebrahimnejad is off to a fast start this season.

He scored two goals to lead the Bears to a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Glenelg on Sept. 20 and has three goals and two assists on the season for Hammond (1-1-4).

"The main thing is his consistency," Hammond coach Rick Bantz said. "He constantly gives all he's got until he runs out of gas or gets hurt."

While Bantz said most teams have trouble matching up with Ebrahimnejad as a striker, the most dynamic characteristic is his versatility. So far, Ebrahimnejad has played sweeper, stopper, striker and center midfield.

"He plays everywhere but goal," Bantz said. "Where I play him depends on how I want him to match up with the other team or to whom I want him to match up with."

Ebrahimnejad - who plays for Bethesda United, a club team that won the state cup and played in the national championships in 2004 and won the South Region I Premier League in 2005 - comes from a rich soccer heritage.

"My father [Ali] was a great player and even better coach and has coached me from the start," Ebrahimnejad said. "He still trains me and my brothers during the summer. He emphasizes individual technique and basics, like how to hit the ball properly, quick one-two touches and making sure to always look up. A lot of my success I credit to his support. He's a big soccer fan."

"Soccer in Iran is bigger than football here," Ebrahimnejad said. "There are parades and parties in the street after every big win.

"Most of our vacations center around sports. I usually play soccer once or twice a year in Florida, and we've been to the World Wrestling championships in both New York and Atlanta."

For now, however, he and his Hammond teammates will be focused only on getting to the state soccer championships.

"He's the heart of our team," Bears junior defender Josh Parsons said. "He has a lot of experience and pumps us up and gets us to play at a higher level by the way he plays."

Todd Karpovich contributed to this article.

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