While the college route has declined in importance as a development pathway, there are still several players who pursue academic studies before embarking on a professional career. Regardless of the journey, talent will always take precedence for scouts and decision makers, particularly for those who can contribute on the attacking side of the game. Kahveh Zahiroleslam recently made the jump to Europe, joining Sint-Truiden after three seasons at Yale University. The 21-year-old target striker hit the ground running in Belgium and could enjoy a quick ascendency.
Born in Saratoga, California and introduced to the game at the age of two by his father, Zahiroleslam competed with Prospect High School for a single season, lining up at left fullback. At the club level, he played for De Anza Force, claiming the Northwest Division of the USSDA league and finishing in sixth in the National Premier League national tournament. Coaches noted his “great frame” and movement, using his size to attract attention while opening up space for teammates.
Zahiroleslam matriculated to Yale University, choosing the prestigious institution due to a “stellar academic reputation” and a men’s soccer program that was “on the upswing.” His first season in New Haven was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the young player to “study remotely from home.” During his second year as a Bulldog, he contributed seven goals and two assists in 16 matches, including four game winners; in addition to four Ivy League Rookie of the Week selections, the conference named him to the All-Ivy second team. His summer was spent with Chicago FC in USL League Two, putting up nine goals and three assists in 12 matches. In his third and final fall at the collegiate level, the attacker maintained his production with six goals and two assists in 12 appearances.
Last summer, Zahiroleslam surrendered his final two years of collegiate eligibility and moved abroad. Following a trial that may have gotten off on the wrong foot, he signed a contract with Koninklijke Sint-Truidense Voetbalvereniging, better known as Sint-Truiden, of the Belgian First Division A. Technical Director Andre Pinto noted that the American’s “imposing stature and header strength” would “strengthen the core” and “add a dimension to the attack.”
“I come from college football in the United States, the step to the Belgian competition is a big one,” said Zahiroleslam. “Things are going harder and faster here, technically, tactically and physically. The workouts are demanding on my body, but I feel like I’m making rapid progress. I hope to get playing opportunities in the competition as soon as possible... I can continue to build towards my best form.”
After not being able to train for a month due to work permit issues, Zahiroleslam made his first-team debut in a 3-3 draw with KRC Genk, playing 14 minutes as a substitute. His first goal came at the end of October, netting the eventual game winner in a 3-0 victory over second-division side Francs Borains in the seventh round of the Belgian Cup. In his eight total appearances, he has become a regular in the starting lineup, adding an assist brought about purely from hustle against KVC Westerlo; however, the club continues to search for consistent production from the striker core. After a 12th place finish last season, De Kanaries (The Canaries) are currently at eighth in the table with 22 points from 16 matches and pushing to qualify for the next edition of the Europa Conference League.
Zahiroleslam hopes to continue building his chemistry with teammates, as local media speculates that he will be the first-choice striker until the transfer window opens, if not for longer. “That first goal in the competition will come,” the 21-year-old said recently. “We are creating enough chances, that is already a start. If you can do what you like to do, you will not have to worry about any pressure on your shoulders. I want to make a career in football and I am happy to have this opportunity... I just came here, so I still need to get a better idea of the competition. The football here is already faster and stronger.”
At the international level, Zahiroleslam is eligible to compete for the United States but has yet to receive a call-up at any level of the USMNT system. He also reportedly has an Iran passport. Should the opportunity arise, the dual-national attacker would be eligible to participate with the U-23 team in the upcoming Olympic Games.
Standing 6’4” and drawing comparison to retired England international Peter Crouch, Zahiroleslam is a towering target striker who can play with his back to the goal and distribute but also possesses the speed to run behind the back line. The Sint-Truiden manager describes him as “fast, technically good, [with a] strong header, [and] ball-resistant.” He is, indeed, as advertised, using his imposing frame and athleticism to rise above defenders while also employing a surprising fluidity of movement that allows for him to set-up his dominant right foot.
Zahiroleslam cleared the first hurdle face by most American players moving abroad: reaching the first team and securing a spot in the rotation. He has broken into the squad and even become a regular starter in the Belgian First Division A. The next step is to establish himself as a reliable goal scorer, after which there could be interest from multiple national team programs, as a productive striker is a welcome addition to any depth chart.