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Kenny Saief: The Champions League midfielder being overlooked by US Soccer

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Time may be running out to cap the Gent playmaker

KAA Gent v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: First Leg Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

American-Israeli midfielder Kenny Saief has experience playing with his Belgian Pro League club Gent in both the Champions League and Europa League. Saief, who was born in Panama City, Florida but moved to Israel with his family when he was 4 years-old, may be unknown to many US Soccer fans but he is gaining the attention of clubs in England and Germany.

Early in his career, Saief played for four teams in four seasons in the Israeli Premier league before transferring to FAA Gent in 2014. Since moving to Belgium, he has become a starter for the Buffaloes making 80 appearances for the club including playing in Champions League and Europa League matches. The 23 year-old has also represented Israel youth teams and been called into two friendlies for the senior team. He is still eligible to play for the US but would need to file a request with FIFA to do so.

ESPNFC reported that Saief wants to play for the US over Israel saying, “I hope I will get a call from the United States; let's be honest.” As far as his motivation for wanting to play for the US he said, “The U.S. is a much bigger and better national team than the Israeli national team. They qualify for almost every World Cup, and it's a dream of every football player to play in the World Cup. So that is where I want to play. I'm just waiting."

So there is a young midfielder with Champions and Europa League experience who is eligible for and wants to play on the USMNT, when are we going to see him in the red, red, and red Nike kit of the USA? Perhaps not anytime soon.

For one thing, his desire to play for the US may put him in an awkward position with the country he immigrated to as a boy. Israel was thought to be planning to call Saief up for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers but an injury will keep him in Belgium for the games while he recovers.

Another issue is that ESPN reported US has scouted Saief but did not comment about calling him up for the article. Scouts have noted that he would not be an improvement over other available US midfielders who have made national team appearances.

Despite this, ESPN announcer and analyst Taylor Twellman thinks that Saief deserves a look saying, “He's a left-footed player, prefers to play as either a left or right winger but has at times played even left-back for Gent, which is a question mark for Bruce Arena and that group," the former MLS and USMNT striker said. "Why wouldn't you call him up with his Champions League experience and enthusiasm for representing the U.S. national team? I think it would be a mistake to pass him up. It obviously doesn't mean he is a guarantee to be a starter, but building a pool of quality players who create competition for one another is a massive step in the growth of U.S. national team.”

Although Twellman’s assessment of Saief is favorable, there are still barriers that may keep him off of the squad. Aside from the fact that there are only 23 players who can be called into the national team, Bruce Arena is facing a challenging task after the USMNT dropped their first two CONCACAF Hexagonal matches. A task that could be made daunting, or neigh impossible, with poor results later this month. While winning one or both of the upcoming matches versus Honduras and at Panama would go towards putting the US in a better position to qualify for the World Cup, nothing is guaranteed. Presumably Saief will be healthy in June but the matches versus Trinidad and Tobago and at Mexico do not present an easier set of matches to bring in new talent. By then it may already be too late and Kenny Saief could be called into the Israeli National Team.