Amir Abedzadeh: Filling the Shoes

May 31, 2011 - United Soccer League (USL) - Orange County SC News Release

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - If asked what they did with the early stages of their lives, very few Angelinos would respond with anything close to a story about growing up in Iran, moving to Europe on their own at age fourteen and finally coming to Southern California four years later. Even fewer would then be able to top that off with aspirations of becoming a professional soccer player, interest from several of the world's most storied clubs, and being mentored by one of the best goalkeepers in the history of the game.

Introducing 18-year-old Los Angeles Blues netminder Amir Abedzadeh, son of Iranian soccer legend and 1998 World Cup star Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh, who spent his playing days with giants of Iranian soccer Esteghlal Tehran, Sepahan Istafahan and Persepolis FC.

"I got started through watching my Dad play as a boy," the younger Abedzadeh remembered. "He used to take me to practice and sit me down behind the goal before I actually started playing myself. When I did start playing, it was in the field at first because my Dad said I wouldn't get tough if I went straight to the goal. So I did that until I was twelve and then I started as a goalkeeper with the Under-14 team of Persepolis. Two years later I moved to England."

Upon his arrival, Abedzadeh had hopes of being invited into camp by a giant of the English Premier League, as he raised some eyebrows during a training program offered by Manchester United. His first team was Brentford FC, however, as he spent two months with the third-tier outfit before moving on to work out at another world-renowned club in Crystal Palace FC. While there, the young goalkeeper trained with both the first and the second teams despite his still tender age of 16 years.

Word about Abedzadeh's talent quickly spread among Premier League sides, and he was offered a week-long trial with Tottenham Hotspur, during which he impressed enough to be invited back in April of 2010. Having considerably improved his game in the meanwhile, the teenager was able to earn himself an extended stint this time that was only cut short by factors outside of his control.

Abedzadeh had been in England on a student visa, and once it expired he found out about the country's complicated rules for foreign players firsthand, as he was unable to obtain a work permit and was forced to return to Iran. There, he trained alongside national heroes Mehdi Mahdavikia and Ali Karimi at Steel Azin, the club where his father briefly served as Assistant Coach in 2010.

When Blues owner Ali Mansouri, himself from Iran, invited the duo to join his newly founded USL PRO side-one as player and the other as goalkeeping coach-they jumped at the opportunity.

While Amir Abedzadeh trained under his father for two months following their arrival in Los Angeles, Ahmad Abedzadeh remains committed to the game in his home country and recently took a leave of absence to return to Iran for a total of six weeks. In the meantime, the team's three goalkeepers are working out by themselves, led by Blues starter and veteran of the Mexican Priméra Division Oscar Dautt.

However, Amir Abedzadeh explained that even without his father around, he never ceases to benefit from his advice and guidance.

"My Dad has taught me a lot" he said. "Even when I played in England, I would always go back to Iran during Christmas and Easter and work out with whatever team he was coaching at the time. The advice he was able to give me over the years was always in the back of my mind when I was in England, and it's definitely still in the back of my mind here in LA."

It hasn't taken Blues Head Coach Charlie Naimo long to recognize the talent he was able to add to his roster in Amir Abedzadeh.

"Amir is a fantastic young prospect," he raved. "He'll most likely get some playing time this year, but I definitely think he's going to develop into an outstanding goalkeeper in the future. He just turned 18, but he handles himself like he's been a pro for five years."

Others were not as fast to identify Abedzadeh's value, as appearances with his country's youth national teams have been hard to come by for the young netminder.

"I was called into camp before the Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria in 2009, but it wasn't until a couple of weeks before the actual tournament and they ended up telling me that they wanted to go with the goalies who had been with the national team for a long time. So those guys were nominated and I was not."

The 18-year-old recently had a déjà-vu experience, as he held hopes of being selected to the Iran squad for Olympic qualifiers against Iraq on June 19 and June 23. If Iran can emerge from the two-legged knockout series victorious, it would be one of twelve teams left in the fight for three automatic berths at the 2012 Olympics in London as well as one spot for an intercontinental playoff with a representative from Africa.

"Again, they told me that they wanted to take the players who have been together for a long time and know each other well," Abedzadeh said. "They also explained that if we should qualify, they are going to call in new players to take a look at them. So hopefully they can beat Iraq and qualify for the Olympics, and hopefully I'll get my chance then. I think the problem is that I was in England for the past four years and that they weren't able to watch me play as much as the local players. That has been pretty disappointing for me."

Abedzadeh wants to be ready once his big opportunity comes, but he is well aware of his current lack of match practice, as he is not yet eligible to suit up for Los Angeles. The young netminder can't wait for the Iranian Football Federation to clear him upon reception of the necessary paperwork from the U.S. Soccer Federation. Once cleared, Abedzadeh will be able to play for both the Blues' first team as well as the second team, the Blues 23, who compete in the Premier Development League.

The Blues 23 had a rough start to the 2011 campaign, largely due to a hastily assembled squad after the club took over the PDL spot previously occupied by the Hollywood United Hitmen on extremely short notice. After an encouraging 0-0 draw in its inaugural match in front of a hostile Fresno crowd of over 7,800, the team lost two consecutive matches and got outscored 9-0 in the process.

Shortly after, a new Head Coach took over in Federico Bianchi and the Blues 23 have looked much improved of late, dropping an unfortunate 2-0 decision to the Southern California Seahorses before claiming their first victory of the season by beating the Los Angeles Legends 2-0 on Saturday night.

The upwards trend had Amir Abedzadeh looking ahead to the rest of the 2011 PDL season with cautious optimism.

"The team still needs to work on a lot of things, but my impression of the training sessions under Coach Bianchi is very good," the Iranian offered. "I think some major changes are needed and some new players need a chance, and the coach seems to be on the right track. The playoffs will be hard to make thanks to the bad start, but with a true shift in mentality maybe we can give ourselves an outside chance."

The addition of a goalkeeper of Abedzadeh's caliber can only help that cause. Once cleared, the 18-year-old should see significant playing time with the PDL side while also providing first-team shot-stopper Oscar Dautt with some valuable competition. Then, if everything goes according to plan, a few years from now Angelinos may just be able to proudly look at another Iranian legend with the name Abedzadeh, knowing that their very own Blues contributed to his emergence.

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