COLUMBUS, Ohio — Major League Soccer is unique among American pro sports in many ways, including the offering of Homegrown Player deals. The Homegrown program allows teams to offer contracts to young players from their areas who have spent time with their academy. Teams get first claim to these players and do not have to subject them to the SuperDraft, where they risk losing the talent to another team. Still, sometimes players fall through the cracks.
Abdi Mohamed is one of those players.
After moving to Columbus with his family in 2004, Mohamed played with the Columbus Crew SC pre-academy teams, but he did not participate with the full-fledged academy. Instead, he spent his time playing for the club team Classic Eagles and his high school, Westerville Central. After becoming the all-time assists leader for his high school, he got recruited to play college soccer by the Ohio State University.
His freshman year of college was a big success. He was named the 2015 newcomer of the year in the Big Ten and made the all-freshman team. After three seasons at Ohio State, he transferred to Akron for his senior season, starting on a team that made it all the way to the national title game. Now, he’s a surefire MLS draft pick, and one the Crew could’ve had for free if his talent had been recognized sooner.
“After my freshman year of college, each summer I would go and train with [the Crew] first team or their U-23 team. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last three and a half years,” Mohamed said, “I was a fan of the Crew growing up. . . . We’ve gone to numerous — I don’t know how many games. I grew up watching them. They’re 10 minutes down the road from me. I was pretty into the Crew,” Mohamed said.
Having trained with the Crew and played for two top Ohio universities, Mohamed experienced the full Ohio soccer experience.
“A lot of top coaches and players have gone through these programs . . . when you’re training with professionals, you develop habits, the ball moves quicker, you get to develop in a professional environment,” Mohamed said.
And yet, Mohamed isn’t eligible for a homegrown contract due to a rule that states the player must be training with an academy team prior to enrollment in college.
Mohamed projects to be a right back at the MLS level, but has also played roles in the central midfield in high school and college.
“You can see the athleticism,” Akron head coach Jared Embick said, “We moved him to outside back. His ability to go box to box is really key for us. We went 14-3-1 when we made the move. . . . His ability to give us width and attack at the back was key.
“He watches film, he does the little things that guys out of college have to do to make it. I think he’s capable, especially if he’s put into the right team and system.”
Embick was quick to pounce and get Mohamed when he decided to transfer from Ohio State, but the coach admitted Akron missed out on him the first time around.
“We scouted him in high school and he didn’t have a great game. We decided not to make an offer,” Embick said. “Then we played Ohio State his freshman year and tied 3-3, and he had a goal and an assist, and we came back into the office and said, ‘Yeah, we might’ve screwed up on that one.'”
Mohamed will find out where he begins his professional career on Friday. While he’d be happy to play for any team, one is certainly in the forefront.
“Staying close to home would be ideal for me,” Mohamed said. “At this stage, I don’t really have much choice, but if Columbus does end up choosing me, I’d be happy.”