When the United States announced its 23-man Gold Cup roster yesterday, there was a new face, a very new face: KAA Gent midfielder/winger Kenny Saief (pronounced SIGH-ef). The 23-year-old was born in Panama City, Florida to Israeli-Druze parents, and when Kenny was around 4, he and his parents left the Sunshine State for Israel. He has yet to return. Kenny Saief sat down with American Soccer Now recently to discuss all this and his thoughts on joining the USMNT (head here to view Brian Sciaretta’s full interview and article).
In the two decades since he left the United States, Saief has turned into a very good soccer player. He can boast that he’s been in the Champions League and Europa League, where he tallied a goal and an assist this season. He made his professional debut in 2011 for Israeli side Bnei Sakhnin, where he played a year before being transferred to Hapoel Haifa.
It wouldn’t be until the 2013-2014 term that he was starting to get noticed (the team he was playing for was relegated), mainly by KAA Gent in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League. Saief would sign a three year deal with the Belgian side in August of 2014.
Saief has played at the youth level and even two friendlies for the senior team in Israel, which is why he had to file a one-time switch to the USMNT. The one-time switch, which was completed last week, automatically cap-ties him to the U.S..
When asked why he made the switch, he was pretty blunt about his desires to become a USMNT player after talking with Bruce Arena’s staff.
“The way they spoke with me, I liked it very much,” Saief told American Soccer Now. “You feel it on the inside. This is the right step for me. I think it's a big pleasure to play for the United States. It is a much better national team than Israel. It's an important step. I always wanted to play at a high national team level. To get a call from the U.S. national team was very special. I was very happy. It gave me a lot of energy and motivation.”
Source: American Soccer Now (emphasis mine)
It’s pretty bold to just come out and say that Israel’s program is not on par with the setup here in the United States, however true it is. As you can imagine, the Israeli National team and supporters were not happy about the switch to the United States.
Saief will join the USMNT in Nashville to train ahead of the Gold Cup and the friendly against Ghana. This will be the first time in a couple decades he’s set foot on American soil. And that makes him happy. “I always wanted to go back to the United States but I never had the time with football,” Saief told American Soccer Now. “I always felt I belonged to this place. Now I have the opportunity to do it. To go back as a player for the national team is very special.”
Kenny has pointed out that he’s a “friendly” guy and figures he won’t have any problem integrating with the rest of the USMNT. Saief can play more than one position, which is a good thing to have up your sleeve. Even if at the moment Arena isn’t sure where to play him, Saief’s willing to play any position, so if he was told to suit up as a goalkeeper, he would do just that. If Saief continues the form he’s been in with Gent, he could make himself very valuable going forward and possibly make a play for the World Cup roster next year. But for right now, he’s focused on one thing, and one thing only: lifting the Gold Cup.
This last season at KAA Gent, Saief scored 8 goals and 5 assists across 47 matches in all competitions. In his career, he’s played 153 matches, with 27 goals and 11 assists.
How do you think he’ll fit into the national team, and do you think he’ll have an impact? Let us know in the comments!