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Fasting and Patience: Inside Ouamri's First Month with CFC

April 5, 2024 - MLS NEXT Pro (MLS NEXT Pro)
Chattanooga FC News Release

Get the behind-the-scenes story of forward Mehdi Ouamri's start to life with Chattanooga Football Club.

"Sometimes in life we take for granted that we are outside playing football and doing what we love. It's all a joy for me."

This was the reflective mood found forward Mehdi Ouamri in after training on Wednesday afternoon. Ouamri, a former Algerian youth national team player who calls Paris home, was brought in from Croatian club NK Solin during the off-season and arrived in Chattanooga with a lot of expectation-the kind that comes with taking up the No9 jersey.

After making a couple of appearances off the bench in the latter stages of preseason, Ouamri began the club's highly-anticipated MLS NEXT Pro home opener against Huntsville City FC on the bench. He got just over ten minutes of regulation time, and he made an instant impact, drawing the foul that led to captain Alex McGrath's late penalty. However, Huntsville City found an equalizer and Ouamri missed a gilt-edged headed chance six yards from goal, denying him the opportunity to be the hero straight out of the gates.

One week later, after starting in the team's 1-0 defeat by Miami United in the U.S. Open Cup, Ouamri started against FC Cincinnati 2 and ultimately scored the club's third goal in a dominant 3-0 victory.

Navigating Ramadan as a professional athlete

But if you peel back the initial layer of euphoria that comes with scoring your first goal in a new league and country altogether, in front of your adoring fans, there was a significant amount of endurance and mental fortitude that went into that moment.

Ouamri is a practicing Muslim and has been observing the ninth month of the Islamic calendar of Ramadan, which involves fasting, prayer and reflection, since March 10th. The fasting period runs from dawn to dusk each day.

"The team, the coaching staff and the whole technical team have helped me a lot during Ramadan and with everything outside of football," said Ouamri. "The adaptation has been good, but I'm never satisfied. I want to score in and win every game, because I'm a competitor. I think we can do good things this season for sure. We need some time to build together."

CFC's athletic trainers, Dr. Mariah Bernanke and Melanie Schaefer, have been instrumental in helping Ouamri navigate Ramadan while maintaining the high standards required of professional athletes. In an effort to protect player safety, Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation also have regulations in place to help athletes who are observing Ramadan. During the Miami United match, play was stopped for a brief spell so that Ouamri could break his fast.

"My religion helps me to be better day after day and to have the correct habits off the field, too. Ramadan helps improve my mentality. Everything in life is in one's mind and head."

During the time that Ouamri can break his fast, he makes sure to drink a lot of water and eat foods with high protein, including dates, rice and white meat. He says that God helps him through the period when he is fasting and that he is grateful to God for that.

"Yes, I'm fasting for Ramadan, but in life there are some things that are more important. Some people struggle to find enough food during the year, some people don't have a place to sleep and I try to respect the rules of my religion and to be the best version of myself."

Patience in Paris

Ouamri's signing was officially announced on February 2nd, 2024. However, he had to wait an entire month, due to P1 Visa certification, before he could fly to Chattanooga and join his new teammates.

During the month of waiting, Ouamri trained for hours on end each day with a personal coach in his hometown of Ivry-Sur-Seine in the southeastern suburbs of Paris, France.

"It was difficult during that period because I'm a competitor and I want to play every game and to get a feeling of the pitch and to play in front of the fans.

"In life you need to be patient, to believe, to work hard, because not everything comes easily. If you work hard and are passionate about it, you will be ready when your chance comes."

Ouamri's mental strength is also evident in the fact that he conducted the entire interview in a non-native language and in a city that he knew very little about when he signed on the dotted line.

"I knew and had heard of Tennessee, but I didn't know specifically about Chattanooga. The United States is very different, but I've been lucky to travel a lot and there are some things about Chattanooga that remind me of Liège, Belgium [where Ouamri spent some of his academy years]. I've been really surprised, because the people are kind and welcoming. I've met some good people in town. The fans are amazing."

The month of Ramadan will conclude on April 9th, but Ouamri will continue his journey with CFC, living each and every moment with joy.

"Big things are coming for sure."

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