MLS-bound Gabriel Somi: ‘Football means a lot to the Syrian people’

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Gabriel Somi, a Swedish-born defender who was last year called up to the Syrian national team is glad he has decided to join New England Revolution. (AP)
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Syria narrowly lost to Australia in the AFC World Cup 2018 playoff last year. (AP)
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Syria narrowly lost to Australia in the AFC World Cup 2018 playoff last year. (AP)
Updated 24 January 2018
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MLS-bound Gabriel Somi: ‘Football means a lot to the Syrian people’

LONDON: America’s Major League Soccer might not be the destination of choice for a lot of Syrian footballers, especially after Donald Trump’s ban on Syrians entering the US.
But Gabriel Somi, a Swedish-born defender who was last year called up to the Syrian national team and whose parents were both born in Syria, was not deterred and is glad he has decided to join New England Revolution.
“No, not at all,” he replied when Arab News asked if he was concerned about obtaining a visa and living in the US under Trump’s presidency.
Somi, 26, who is still in Sweden waiting for his visa application to be processed, has lived in the Scandinavian country his entire life after his parents, both Christians living in a majority Muslim country, decided to move to Sweden with their three daughters in 1989 in search of a better life for their children.
Despite growing up in Sweden, his parents made sure Somi, born in the town of Örebro in 1991, never forgot his true heritage.
“My parents raised me in that way, (that) you should never forget where you came from,” Somi said.
“OK, we left Syria, but you have Syrian blood. In my home I always had to speak my language, they tried to tell me to not speak Swedish at home.
“We have a lot of family at home (in Syria) and almost every year we went down on vacation to see them, but unfortunately the last seven or eight years there’s been the war so the situation hasn’t been good.
“But luckily for all of our family members it’s still okay in their areas.”
Having joined top flight club Östersunds FK in 2016, Somi quickly caught the attention of the Syrian national team and after an complicated process, was finally called up for his first camp for last year’s World Cup playoffs against Australia.

“It was a very proud moment in my career to get a call up, especially for the World Cup qualification,” Somi said.
“It was a long process to be honest, it took around eight months to fix everything, (but) my family, my parents and my cousins, everyone was so proud.”
Somi, however, did not make it off the bench and had to watch on as Syria came agonizingly close to a shock upset that would have seen them take on Honduras in a final playoff to make it to the Russian showpiece, a match Somi insisted they would have won.
“Of course (we were disappointed), we know as Syrians how much this would have meant for the whole country,” he revealed.
“To lose in that way, to be seconds from going through, that shot if it goes in I think we would go through to the World Cup, I think we would have beaten Honduras.”
Somi admitted the players took the defeat badly.
“It was a tough moment, everyone was crying in the locker room. It was a tough defeat, but in the end the whole of Syria was really proud at how far we came, and it was a huge achievement for the whole team, even though the country was in war but still to do so well it was something fantastic.”
While he would not be drawn on the politics involved in playing under the flag of the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, Somi said the football team was a force for good, a source of pride for Syrians all over the world.
“Even though there is the war the whole country was behind us,” he said.
“To be honest I don’t want to go into too much political stuff, I know the national team brings everyone together. The whole country was behind us.
“I got a picture from a family member in Damascus where there were thousands of people in the city watching and following the qualification. I know it meant a lot to all of the Syrian people all around the world.”

While the hurt from that loss still lingers, Somi’s immediate focus is getting over to the US and joining his new teammates at New England. After spending his whole career in Sweden he is looking forward to the change of scenery and different challenge offered by playing in MLS.
“I’m not 19 years old anymore, so I wanted to take this opportunity,” he explained.
“I’ve been playing in Sweden my whole life so I wanted to take this chance to try a new league and play abroad.
“I had a lot of clubs that were interested. I went to Hearts in Scotland and visited them, it was a fantastic club also, and I had a lot of top teams here in Sweden give me offers all well.
“But my goal was to go outside Sweden, to try something new and then New England came with an offer and I felt that this was the best offer for me.
“It’s financially very good, a great city and it’s an upcoming league, it’s growing a lot.
“(Football) is becoming really big in the US so it’s an offer I couldn’t say no to.”


Leonard scores 35, Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 for 3-2 lead

Updated 24 May 2019
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Leonard scores 35, Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 for 3-2 lead

  • Leonard hit the 30-point mark for the fourth time in the series

MILWAUKEE: Kawhi Leonard scored 35 points and the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks 105-99 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Leonard showed no obvious signs of the leg soreness that bothered him in Toronto’s victories in the previous two games, hitting the 30-point mark for the fourth time in the series. He made five 3-pointers and had seven rebounds and nine assists.
Fred VanVleet scored 21 points, hitting seven 3s. Kyle Lowry added 17 as the Raptors put themselves in position to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time. A victory at home Saturday would set up a matchup with two-time defending champion Golden State.
“This was a super-hard win tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
The Raptors battled out of an early 14-point hole, then got 15 points from Leonard in the fourth quarter to send the top-seeded Bucks to their first three-game losing streak of the season.
“We weathered the storm early,” Leonard said.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points for Milwaukee hours after being announced as a unanimous first-team, All-NBA selection. Eric Bledsoe scored 20 and Malcolm Brogdon added 18 points and 11 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup.
“It’s first to four. We’ve got to go to Toronto, get a game. I think the group will be ready,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
The Raptors were clinging to a two-point lead in the closing minute after Khris Middleton drove around Leonard on the baseline for a layup.
Toronto was initially called for a shot-clock violation when Leonard missed a fadeaway jumper with 35 seconds left. That got overturned by a replay review, and Brook Lopez was called for a foul, instead, for bumping Marc Gasol after he retrieved the loose ball.
Gasol hit both free throws to make it 100-97. Another replay review went in Toronto’s favor when officials determined a ball went out of bounds off Brogdon with 26.8 seconds left. Brogdon pulled his hand away, thinking his dribble had gone off Pascal Siakam’s foot.
Siakam then drove for a dunk, making it 102-97, and the Raptors hung on from there.
Milwaukee was leading 81-79 with about 8 1/2 minutes left when Leonard nailed back-to-back 3-pointers. He hit two free throws before Siakam threw down a put-back dunk to make it 89-81.
The Bucks tied it at 93-all with 2:44 left on a 3-pointer by Lopez. VanVleet answered with one of his own before Antetokounmpo threw down an alley-oop dunk to cut it to 96-95 with just over two minutes remaining.
The Bucks set a fast pace early on and led by 10 after the first quarter, delighting the towel-waving fans chanting “Fear The Deer! Fear the Deer!” They withstood a 16-2 run by Toronto to start the second, with Antetokounmpo nailing a 3 to stop it.
The Bucks also went on a 14-2 run early in the third, with the Greek Freak throwing down a hard dunk off a feed by Middleton for a 63-51 lead. But the Raptors got right back into it.

Tip-ins

Raptors: Lowry now has 1,126 points in 66 playoff games for Toronto, surpassing DeMar DeRozan (1,117) as the franchise’s postseason scoring leader.
Bucks: Brogdon started all 64 games he played in during the regular season, before missing basically all of the first two rounds because of a heel injury. With Brogdon back in the lineup, Nikola Mirotic came off the bench.

Up next

Game 6 is at Toronto on Saturday.