YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

With the Force : The Road From Iran to Orange County to Cleveland and the MISL Has Been Paved With Constant Success in Soccer for Ali Kazemaini

January 14, 1987|LISA DILLMAN

One might look at the great soccer debate as a simple regional conflict--that is, if you want to make it young man, go East.

Stay put, in the West, and your chances of making soccer a career may fall with the setting sun.

It was that way when Ali Kazemaini was a standout soccer player at Orange High School. It is still true today, although to a lesser extent than before.

Kazemaini, now a forward with the Cleveland Force of the Major Indoor Soccer League, recognized the situation during his search for a collegiate program. So, he took his high school credentials--All-Southern Section honors and most valuable player in the 1980 Orange County North-South All-Star game--to Cleveland State.

There, the list of his accomplishments grew. He won All-American honors and was a first-round draft choice by the Force in 1984.

After a short struggle with the indoor game, Kazemaini was named the league's Rookie of the Year. Last season, in which he was Cleveland's second-leading goal scorer, his peers named him to the MISL All-Star squad.

However, Kazemaini is an Orange County oddity. His road has been one of constant success. Most of the players of his era fell by the wayside, some to junior colleges and anonymity, others dropped out of the game completely.

It could have happened to Kazemaini, too. He was a three-sport athlete in high school. At Cleveland State, he played No. 1 singles and doubles on the tennis team for two seasons and advanced to regional competition in doubles. And, according to Kazemaini, Ohio State tempted him with a placekicking scholarship.

"I don't want to sound cocky," said Kazemaini, who has played only nine games this season because of a knee injury. "There are a few good soccer players out there (in California). But the better (college) programs are in the Eastern part of the country. There is good talent but it is a matter of development. The coaches in the East have a better soccer background."

Kazemaini learned the fundamentals of soccer in Tehran, Iran. When he arrived in Orange County to live with his brother in 1978, there was no soccer team at Orange High. Later that year, a squad was formed and he found himself far ahead of the others.

"A lot of coaches at the grade-school level don't know the game that well," Kazemaini said. "The kids need to pick up the most important part of the game, which is the fundamentals. Seventeen is too late to learn the fundamentals. When I was 11 and 12, I knew the basics. I knew the basics better than a lot of the kids in Orange County I played against."

Kazemaini has returned to Orange County several times to hold youth clinics. He said is hoping to hold a program this summer at Orange High School.

While the training regime for soccer at Orange was rigorous, Kazemaini felt the atmosphere at some area colleges was too casual. He was accustomed to long, grueling runs. While visiting one school, Kazemaini observed one workout--and came away disappointed.

"That was one of the main reasons I left," he said. "I saw a workout and it was nothing more than a Sunday afternoon club workout. I didn't see that intensity. I threw up my hands and thought to myself, 'Forget it, I'm not going to waste my time.' "

Since he was unable to get more than a partial scholarship from a school in Southern California, it made Kazemaini's decision easier. When the coach for his state select soccer team, Nassar Sarfraz, became the coach at Cleveland State, Kazemaini received a full ride there.

Although he had left his family in Iran, Kazemaini found it difficult to leave his brother, who was also his legal guardian, and his sister-in-law.

"I guess it is a matter of whether you're serious enough about it to leave your family," he said.

Said John Garcia, who was Kazemaini's coach at Orange: "Right from the beginning, when he tried out for me his junior year, he told me he was going to make it big. You hear that all the time from kids. But I believed he was going to make it."

Los Angeles Times Articles