Ali Zohar has had about a month to let it all sink in – that’ll he be off to a place called Highland Heights, Kentucky, to play soccer this coming fall.
The Whalley-area resident has earned a full-ride scholarship to play with the University of Northern Kentucky’s men’s team, which won the NCAA Division II national championship a decade ago (in a snowstorm-struck cup game) and is now looking to Zohar to strengthen its midfield.
“It was an exciting moment for me,” Zohar said of his scholarship, which was announced in mid-April.
“I’ll go there in the summer, in July, for training,” added the 18-year-old, born on May 7, 2001. “I already went for a visit there, so I saw the campus. It’s really nice.”
Zohar’s path to university sports in the U.S. is from Surrey via Bangladesh, a country he and his family fled to come to Canada as refugees, in 2009.
He began playing soccer a couple years later in Surrey, at age 10, after watching his older brothers play the game in the South Asian country, located east of India on the Bay of Bengal.
“I went to a lot of their games,” Zohar recalled. “I already had a passion for soccer growing up, and in Canada I got a chance to play. I loved playing it right away.”
He started with the BC Tigers and Central City Breakers soccer organizations, then moved on to Coastal FC and Surrey United premier-league squads before joining the Whitecaps FC pre-residency program in September of 2014. That same year, as a 14-year-old, Zohar made his debut with the Canadian youth program.
A bio posted to whitecapsfc.com says Zohar is a fan of Spanish juggernaut Real Madrid. “One day, the midfielder hopes to play at Real Madrid’s home stadium, Santiago Bernabeu. As far as his career goes, Zohar hopes to be able to play soccer at the professional level. Outside of soccer, one of Zohar’s favourite pastimes is playing street hockey.”
“He’s my former captain (at the Whitecaps academy),” Day said of Zohar.
“He has a lot of leadership qualities, and that’s why I got him coaching the younger kids here (at Guildford), because he’s a perfect role model.
“Ali’s got a different background, obviously, with his refugee status, and he came here with the most humblest and modest of upbringings, and he’s had to work hard to get where he is,” Day added. “He’s a competitor, very driven and aggressive, a leader by example.
“He’s certainly one of those guys you want in your group.”
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Zohar recalls arriving in Canada with his parents and three brothers. Another brother and a sister arrived later, after the family settled in Surrey, currently near Gateway station.
“I moved houses a lot since we moved to Canada – like five times, but always in Surrey,” Zohar explained.
“It was an eye-opening coming to Canada, so different, such a different culture,” he continued.
Zohar credits coach Jack Reddy, now with the women’s team at the University of Lethbridge, for teaching him “everything about the game.… He took me to training and paid for things,” Zohar said. “He was with Coastal, and I joined there because of him, and then he moved to Surrey (United) and so I moved there, too.”
With soccer his focus with the NKU Norse at university, Zohar also plans to get an education while getting his kicks on the pitch in Kentucky.
“I’m going to do something in criminal justice, maybe a cop kind of thing,” Zohar said. “It’s not just about soccer for me, because I want to get an education as well. If soccer doesn’t work out, I will learn some things.… I’m going to take a coaching course in university as well.”
"Footbask" new to @Guildford1965. "This program is open to all ages between U8-U13 for both Boys and Girls and there are some spots still available. It is open to any any newcomers to either sport wanting to try some multi sport activities at Guildford Athletic Club." #SurreyBC pic.twitter.com/hA5sjAPGvJ— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) May 8, 2019
• Meantime, Guildford Athletic Club has launched a new Friday-night academy for “Footbask,” with 30 minutes of soccer and another 30 of basketball, at Mary Jane Shannon Elementary gym (10682 144th St, Surrey).
“This program is open to all ages between U8-U13 for both boys and girls, and there are some spots still available,” Day said. “It is open to any any newcomers to either sport wanting to try some multi sport activities at Guildford Athletic Club.” Look for registration details at guildfordac.com.