There isn’t much Siad Haji remembers about when he first came to the United States.
He remembers being sick on the plane – at about 4 years old, it was his first plane ride.
Haji’s parents fled the civil war in Somalia to a refugee camp in Kenya, just outside the capital city of Nairobi, where Haji was born. In 2004, he and his family traveled the United States and settled in New Hampshire, where his family has lived ever since.
“It’s a big change,” Haji said. “I didn’t speak English or any of that. But now I can speak English and I understand the American culture. If I look back to when I was throwing up [on the plane], I was just young – it was like an adventure, I would say.”
That first plane ride is years in the past. Now 19 years old, Haji is focused on what his future could bring. The Virginia Commonwealth University winger is widely considered one of the top prospects in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, which takes place Friday in Chicago.
He signed a Generation Adidas contract to come out of VCU as a junior after a five-goal, 10-assist season with the Rams. He’s also played for the United States’ U-15, U-17 and U-19 national teams.
Haji, who readily admits he’s a soft-spoken individual and, in general, a laid-back guy, said he’s paid little attention to the hype.
“To me, you have to deserve it,” he said. “You have to work hard for it. It’s like a motivation for me to see that. I don’t really buy into it as much.
“There’s still more work, man.”
With the professional ranks calling, that soft-spoken nature is something Haji said he’s looking to leave behind.
“I feel like at the next level, that needs to stop,” he said. “I need to be more aggressive to be successful.”
As a player, Haji hopes to be a connector. Growing up, he modeled his game after Spanish star Andrés Iniesta – FC Barcelona is his favorite club.
“Growing up, I wanted to score goals, but I see myself as a connector. That guy that makes the final pass,” he said. “More and more of a playmaker, that’s what I see myself as.”
This is all for his family. His mother, Isha Banku, works in a hotel. His father, Abdi Khamis, has glaucoma in his left eye and doesn’t work. He has three sisters and two brothers – his brothers play basketball and his sisters don’t care much for sports.
“They’re really proud,” he said. “They’re happy for me and they’re just excited for the new opportunity.”
Haji said he was “the eye” for his family when they first arrived in the United States. His parents don’t speak English – Somali is spoken in the home – so his parents relied on him and his siblings to translate.
“Being there for the family was very, very important,” Haji said. “My dad always talks about respect and listening to people and I just value family. That’s what motivates me to play the sport.”
Signing a Generation Adidas contract was something he and his family discussed at length. Haji spent two years at VCU and one at New England College (a D-III school) and almost didn’t leave school as a junior because education is important in his family.
Haji said he’s still dedicated to finishing his sociology degree.
“It was a tough decision to make,” he said. “Even with Generation Adidas, I’m still going to continue going to school because I want to be the first to graduate in my family. It’s been tough, but my family and I came to the conclusion that I need to make the next step so I can continue that as well. But they’re 100-percent sure that I’m going to continue my education.
“It’s important because I have siblings that are going to follow the same path if I do it and I graduate.”
During this week’s Combine at Orlando City Stadium, Haji has had a chance to reflect. He’s tested himself against other prospects and has been pleased with the results.
What’s left is the wait. The draft is on Friday and expansion side FC Cincinnati has the first pick.
Haji said he’s thought about what it would be like to be picked No. 1 overall.
“Blessing,” he said. “That’s it, man. You never picture this type of stuff four years ago, three years ago. Blessing, and also, time to work. You’ve got to keep going. That’s how I see it. I’ve just got to keep going.”