In 1982, Girma Aweke arrived in the United States in search of a better life and education. After spending his early years in Ethiopia, he made his way to San Jose State University, where he studied engineering.
Seble Demissie, the second youngest of eight children, arrived in the USA in 1987 after earning her undergraduate degree in Ethiopia with the same goals. She did some short term training at the University of Pittsburgh and then earned her MBA at Long Beach State.
It was in Northern California, among the tight-knit Ethiopian community, that the two met, fell in love, married in 1995, and settled in San Jose. Living out their version of the American dream, he as an engineer in the medical field and she working in finance and banking.
Both became American citizens, and they had two children, son Nathaniel and daughter Naomi, who was born in 2000. Sixteen years later, the daughter of immigrants, a first generation American, is on the cusp of representing – and perhaps captaining -- the United States in a youth Women’s World Cup.
It was the Ethiopian community that first drew Naomi Girma to soccer. (In Ethiopia, the children take the first name of their father as their last name). Girma Aweke was one of the organizers of “maleda soccer” (maleda meaning “dawn” or “morning” in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia), a gathering of Ethiopian families that served to strengthen the bonds of the community.
“I was five years old when I first started playing,” said Naomi, who heads into the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan as one of the USA’s starting center backs. “Girls and boys played together and they always divided soccer games into little kids, medium kids and big kids. I always begged to play with the big kids. Eventually, my parents let me.”
Through these free play weekend afternoons, which also featured other sports and a big BBQ to end the day, Naomi’s love for the game was nurtured. At age nine, she started playing club soccer for the Central Valley Crossfire and grew into one of the USA’s elite female players for her age. She has committed to Stanford University for the fall of 2018 and has captained the U.S. U-17 WNT on several occasions.
Naomi realizes that her upbringing was quintessentially American, but she has a tremendous appreciation for her culture and her parents’ story.
“Obviously I grew up in the United States, but I’ve never lost sight of my heritage,” said Naomi, who still can speak Amharic, her first language. “I’m incredibly proud and honored to play for my country, but I’m also proud that may parents were able to come here and carve out a better life for our family. In a way, it even makes this whole experience even more special.”
Naomi got to experience her heritage first-hand the summer before she entered sixth grade when she and her family spent a month in Ethiopia, traveling to the capital Addis Ababa, where her mom grew up, as well as Nazareth, where her dad was raised and where her grandmother still lives. She admits to sensory overload and some culture shock, but the people, the amazing food and the fact that she came face-to-face with her ancestry made it the trip of her young lifetime.
“We met a lot of family, extended family and people who we would call family even if they aren’t related,” said Naomi. “It was my first time out of the country and it was a wonderful experience, but it was definitely eye-opening. There’s was so much poverty, especially in Addis Ababa, and so over-crowded. I saw where my parents grew up and how different it is to our lives and our neighborhood in San Jose. It really made me appreciate how hard my parents worked to give us the lives we have today.”
Ethiopia is known for its distance runners, most notably Olympic champions Haile Gebrselassie (Naomi’s middle name is Haile), Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar, but Naomi gravitated more towards the sprints, running track during freshman year and competing in the 100 and 400 meters while running the anchor in the 4x100 and 4x400 meters. That’s not to say she doesn’t have stamina as well, as she consistently finishes among the top few players on the U.S. U-17 WNT in endurance tests.
“I always enjoyed running,” said Girma. “When I was little, I loved to play tag. It was fun to catch all the kids and I just kept going all day.”
She is still very tied to the local Ethiopian community, celebrating Ethiopian holidays with several families who live close by during get-togethers that feature lots of traditional foods. Her favorites are kitfo, minced raw beef marinated in a spice mix, and awaze tibs, a spicy lamb dish. And the maleda soccer is still going strong.
The young maleda soccer players have a special place in Naomi’s heart. Parents of the kids she played with when she was little still come up to her to congratulate her on her soccer successes. Ethiopia has never participated in a FIFA Women’s World Cup at any level, but Naomi will become the first player of Ethiopian descent to represent the USA in such a tournament.
“I think all the players on this team are role models, and even though we are only teenagers I think we can understand and appreciate that,” she said. “And if other first generation Ethiopian kids or other immigrants can see me and aspire to play for the United States, then that’s really cool.”
Girma Aweke was just a bit older than Naomi is now when he came to the United States. It’s amazing what can happen in one generation.
Things were moving on up this week for MNT players here and abroad. Two players struck their first of the campaign while another bagged a brace. Others booked their place in the MLS playoffs or lifted their squads up the ranks in the league table. Take a look at how U.S. Men’s National Team players performed with their clubs during the last week.
We start at midweek where Fabian Johnson scored his first goal of the season for Borussia Moenchengladbach, rescuing a late 1-1 draw at RB Leipzig on Wednesday. In the 84th minute, ‘Gladbach caught the hosts out in transition when Lars Stindle fed Johnson into the box on the right. The U.S. international then cut back to find enough space for a clinical finish inside the lower left post. At the weekend, Johnson was back action, going the distance in a 2-0 win against Alfredo Morales and Ingolstadt, taking the Foals up to fourth place in the Bundesliga based on goal differential. Incidentally, they are tied on points with Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt.
WATCH: Fabian Johnson secures 1-1 draw for ‘Gladbach
In MLS, Saturday’s match between Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC offered up plenty of drama. Facing a TFC side that needed just a win to clinch an MLS Cup Playoff berth, Alejandro Bedoya and Philadelphia had other ideas, as the MNT midfielder tallied his first goal for the club with a deft chip from just outside the area to give the Union a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute. The second half would see Toronto FC rebound with a dominant performance and after Jonathan Osorio’s 70th minute equalizer, their best chance for three points came 16 minutes later, when Jozy Altidore’s volley clanged off the left post. In the end, other results pushed TFC into the playoffs for the second straight season.
WATCH: Alejandro Bedoya makes the most of his first MLS Goal
In Sunday’s prime clash, Seattle Sounders FC went to LA Galaxy knowing that anything but a win would likely send them to their first early offseason since joining MLS in 2009. Sounders FC responded with a 4-2 comeback win thanks in large part to a brace from Jordan Morris.
After going into the locker room at 1-1, Morris stole the show in the second half, first powering past Galaxy center back Daniel Steres before sending a classy finish past Brian Rowe to make it 2-1 in the 63rd minute. Ten minutes later, Morris chipped for Alvarao Fernandez on the left, who played his header across goal for Nicolas Lodeiro. The Uruguayan’s sliding attempt was saved by Rowe, but Morris was there at the left post to finish the rebound and give Sounders FC the edge they needed for the rest of the match. The win puts Sounders FC just three points back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with two games in hand on almost everyone above the red line.
WATCH: Morris Brace leads Sounders FC to crucial 4-2 win vs. LA Galaxy
Things continue to heat up in Liga MX, where a double-game week saw Club Tijuana and Pachuca sit first and third respectively at the top of the table. Michael Orozco played 90 minutes in both of Tijuana’s matches this week, a pair of 2-1 wins against Queretaro on Wednesday and at Santos Laguna on Sunday. Paul Arriola was a late-game sub in both matches for Los Xolos (7-1-3), who sit one point clear of Tigres UANL at the top of the table.
Meanwhile, Omar Gonzalez played a combined 171 minutes in Pachuca’s 5-1 win at Monarcas Morelia at midweek and 2-0 victory against Queretaro on Saturday. Los Tuzos (6-3-2) are just four points back of Tijuana with six games left in the Liga MX Apertura season.
DeAndre Yedlin earned his first league start since joining Newcastle United, delivering a cross that led to an own goal in their 1-1 draw at Aston Villa … On-loan MNT defender Matt Miazga made his club debut for Vitesse Arnhem in their 7-2 KNVB Cup win against De Dijk at midweek. Miazga then made his league debut and even provided a late-game assist in the 2-1 loss at Twente … After being named captain for Scottish side Hearts at midweek, Perry Kitchen played wore the armband for the first time in the club’s 0-0 draw with Ross County ... Continuing his long injury comeback, Josh Gatt started his first match in more than three years for Molde, playing 66 minutes in their 3-1 loss against Rosenborg.
The Full Rundown:
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas) – 90 minutes in 0-0 draw at Real Salt Lake (Sept. 24)
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC) – 90 minutes in 1-1 draw vs. Philadelphia Union (Sept. 24)
Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana) – 2 substitute minutes in 2-1 win vs. Queretaro (Sept. 21); 7 substitute minutes in 2-1 win vs. Santos Laguna (Sept. 25)
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) – 90 minutes in 0-0 draw vs. FC Dallas (Sept. 24)
Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union) – 90 minutes, GOAL in 1-1 draw at Toronto FC (Sept. 24)
David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes) – 90 minutes in 2-1 loss vs. Sporting KC (Sept. 24)
Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United)– 90 minutes in 4-1 win vs. Orlando City SC (Sept. 24)
Michael Bradley (Toronto FC) – 90 minutes in 1-1 draw vs. Philadelphia Union (Sept. 24)
Geoff Cameron (Stoke City) – 90 minutes in 1-1 draw vs. West Bromwich Albion (Sept. 24)
Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) – 90 minutes in 2-1 win vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Sept. 20); 90 minutes in 3-3 draw vs. Hertha Berlin (Sept. 24)
Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC) – 90 minutes in 2-0 win vs. New England Revolution (Sept. 25)
Josh Gatt (Molde) – 66 minutes in 3-1 loss vs. Rosenborg (Sept. 24)
Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca) – 81 minutes in 5-1 win at Morelia (Sept 20); 90 minutes in 2-0 win vs. Queretaro (Sept. 24)
Ethan Horvath (Molde) – 90 minutes in 3-1 loss vs. Roseborg (Sept. 24)
Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids) – 90 minutes in 3-3 draw at Vancouver Whitecaps FC (Sept. 24)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach) – 90 minutes, GOAL in 1-1 draw at RB Leipzig (Sept. 21); 90 minutes in 2-0 win vs. Ingolstadt (Sept. 24)
Perry Kitchen (Hearts) – 90 minutes in 0-0 draw vs. Ross County (Sept. 24)
Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls) – 89 minutes in 1-0 win vs. Montreal Impact (Sept. 24)
Matt Miazga (Vitesse) – 20 substitute minutes in 7-2 Dutch Cup win at De Dijk (Sept. 22); 26 substitute minutes, ASSIST in 2-1 loss at Twente (Sept. 25)
Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt) – 12 substitute minutes in 2-0 loss vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (Sept. 20); 77 minutes in 2-0 loss vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach (Sept. 24)
Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC) – 90 minutes, TWO GOALS in 4-2 win at LA Galaxy (Sept. 25)
Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers) - 90 minutes in 3-1 loss at Houston Dynamo (Sept. 24)
Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution) - 90 minutes in 2-0 loss at Columbus Crew SC (Sept. 25)
Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana) – 90 minutes in 2-1 win vs. Queretaro; 90 minutes in 2-1 win at Santos Laguna (Sept. 25)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)– 45 minutes in 5-1 win at Wolfsburg (Sept. 20); 26 substitute minutes in 3-1 win vs. Freiburg (Sept. 23)
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) – 90 minutes in 2-1 loss vs. Sporting KC (Sept. 24)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg) - 78 minutes in 1-0 loss at Freiburg (Sept. 20); 84 minutes in 1-0 loss vs. Bayern Munich (Sept. 24)
William Yarbrough (Club Leon) - 90 minutes in 0-0 draw vs. Chiapas (Sept. 21); 90 minutes in 1-1 draw at Toluca (Sept. 25)
DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United) – 90 minutes in 2-0 League Cup win vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers; 75 minutes in 1-1 draw at Aston Villa (Sept. 24)
Did Not Play/Injured:
Matt Besler (Sporting KC)– In 18, DNP in 2-1 win at San Jose Earthquakes (Sept. 24)
John Brooks (Hertha Berlin) – Muscle Problems; Not in 18 for 3-0 loss at Bayern Munich (Sept. 21) or 3-3 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt (Sept. 24)
Edgar Castillo (Monterrey) – Broken kneecap; Not in 18 for 5-2 win vs. Santos Laguna (Sept. 21) or 3-1 loss at Atlas (Sept. 24)
Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC)- Irregular heart beat; Not in 18 for 4-2 win at LA Galaxy (Sept. 25)
Julian Green (Bayern Munich) - Not in 18 for 3-0 win vs. Hertha Berlin (Sept. 21) or 1-0 win at Hamburg (Sept. 24)
Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough) – In 18, DNP in 2-1 loss vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Sept. 24)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen)– Not in 18, Suspended for 2-1 loss vs. Mainz (Sept. 21) and 2-1 win vs. Wolfsburg (Sept. 24)
Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids) – Quad injury; Not in 18 for 3-3 draw at Vancouver Whitecaps FC (Sept. 24)
Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht) – In 18, DNP in 2-0 win vs. Sparta Rotterdam (Sept. 25)
Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz) – In 18, DNP in 2-1 loss at Grasshopper (Sept. 25)
Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy) – Broken metatarsal; Not in 18 for 4-2 win vs. Seattle Sounders FC (Sept. 25)
Graham Zusi (Sporting KC) – Calf injury; Not in 18 for 2-1 win at San Jose Earthquakes (Sept. 24)
CHICAGO (Sept. 23, 2016) – U.S. Soccer has issued an update ticket lottery process timeline for the U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Mexico, Presented by AT&T, World Cup Qualifying match set for Nov. 11 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
Instructions on how to apply for tickets will be released to U.S. Soccer Membership and the general public on Monday, Sept. 26. Click here to read more about the weighted lottery process. As a reminder, once the ticket lottery application process begins, U.S. Soccer will accept applications for the ticket lottery through Thursday, Sept. 29.
More information will be made available on Monday, Sept. 26.Read more
One of the prime matchups of the weekend features LA Galaxy hosting Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN). While this is generally a battle between two clubs fighting for spots at the top of the MLS Western Conference, the Sunday matinee will pit two sides that find themselves in much different places at this stage of the playoff push.
Here are Five Things to Know about the match:
U.S. World Cup Alums Aplenty
With so many successful years between them, the Galaxy and Sounders FC have had a number of great players don their colors through the years. Bringing it all back to the MNT, it made us wonder how many LA and Seattle players combined have been a part of a U.S. World Cup roster. The answer is 21 total, with one player having suited up for both sides.
How many can you name? Scroll down for the full list, but start with this hint:
Both (1): Herculez Gomez (2010)
LA Galaxy (15): Chris Albright (2006), Gregg Berhalter (2002, 2006), Edson Buddle (2010), Paul Caligiuri (1990, 1994), Brian Ching (2006), Landon Donovan (2002, 2006, 2010), Robbie Findley (2010), Omar Gonzalez (2014), Cobi Jones (1994, 1998, 2002), Frankie Hejduk (1998, 2002), Alexi Lalas (1994, 1998), Eddie Lewis (2002, 2006), Pablo Mastroeni (2002, 2006), Clint Mathis (2002), Tony Sanneh (2002).
Seattle Sounders FC (5): Clint Dempsey (2006, 2010, 2014), Marcus Hahnemann (2006, 2010), Kasey Keller (1990, 1998, 2002, 2006), Eddie Johnson (2006), DeAndre Yedlin (2014)
West Coast Rivalry
Through a number of contentious playoff battles and the chase for the 2014 Supporters Shield, LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC have developed one of the better rivalries in Major League Soccer during the past few years.
With a 9-4-7 advantage, the Galaxy have held the overall regular season edge since Seattle joined MLS in 2009. The clubs have met on four different occasions in the MLS postseason, with the Galaxy advancing three times and twice on the way to MLS Cup victories in 2012 and 2014.
Seattle’s greatest triumphs in the series came in successive years when they narrowly beat LA to the Supporters Shield in 2014, then finally got over the playoff hump when they defeated the Galaxy 3-2 in the Knockout Round of last year’s MLS Cup playoffs.
The two sides have already met three times this season, with the Galaxy using a Robbie Keane strike to earn a 1-0 away win at CenturyLink Field on July 9 before Cristian Roldan and Sebastian Lletget traded goals in a 1-1 draw in Seattle on July 31. Those two games were played around their U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal clash, which saw Seattle lead 2-1 late before Giovanni dos Santos and Lletget combined for three goals in the final 13 minutes to give the Galaxy a 4-2 win on July 20.
Scene Set: LA Galaxy
Despite suffering injuries to some aging stars, the Galaxy have been in fine form this season, losing just one MLS match since June 22 and going 6-1-9 in the process.
A rash of injuries has claimed the likes of Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Jelle van Damme at different times this year and put U.S. international Gyasi Zardes on the shelf at least through the end of the regular season. That led to MNT and Galaxy legend Landon Donovan coming out of retirement earlier this month to aid the club in their playoff push.
Though still weathering the injury storm, the Galaxy find themselves with a chance to clinch an eighth-straight postseason berth with a win against Seattle on Sunday.
Scene Set: Seattle Sounders FC
Seattle hasn’t had as easy a time this season. After its worst start since joining the league in 2009, the club parted ways with its only MLS-era head coach in Sigi Schmid in late July. Since his departure, Sounders FC have found some stability under interim head coach Brian Schmetzer, who has also benefitted from the arrival of Uruguayan international Nicolas Lodeiro in earning a 4-1-3 mark since taking over.
Still, the hole dug at the beginning of the season has made for an uphill battle in making sure they don’t miss the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in club history. Things haven’t been made any easier with the loss of MNT forward Clint Dempsey due to an irregular heartbeat at the end of August. While Dempsey returned to the training field last week, the timetable for his return to action is unknown.
In the here and now, Seattle sits five points back of the final playoff spot in the West, with every point mattering a great deal at this stage. A win Sunday would be a huge boost, while a loss would likely prove disastrous to their postseason hopes.
Jordan Morris…Still a Rookie
Though he’s been on the MNT radar since late 2014, it’s still sometimes difficult to remember that Jordan Morris is a rookie in MLS. That said, the 22-year-old forward has continued to show why U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann chose to call him in when he was just a sophomore at Stanford.
A sure candidate for MLS Rookie of the Year, Morris headed home his 10th goal of the season in last week’s 1-0 win against Vancouver. The goal was also his fifth game-winner of the campaign, setting a new MLS rookie record.
Morris faced a different pressure this week when he threw out the first pitch before the Seattle Mariners game on Wednesday.