Mohammed Zakyi and Umar Farouk Osman stood at the first row of Michigan Stadium excitedly gazing out at the spectacle before their eyes.
It was the day before legendary English football clubs Liverpool and Manchester United were set to face off at the Big House, and Zayki and Osman came to watch the Meyersides practice. For the rising sophomores, it represented the ultimate goal: becoming a professional soccer player and achieving international fame. After all, a sizeable crowd had gathered just to watch the global powerhouses practice before a preseason friendly.
For Zayki, Osman and the rest of the Michigan men’s soccer team, this day had long been a big red X on their calendars. Not only will the experience of watching the best in the world matchup on their home turf instill a deep desire to reach the next level, but it will also serve as a unique learning and bonding opportunity for the team.
“When we heard about this two years ago, because we came here two years ago for our visit and we heard they were coming to play here, I was like, “Bro, that’s gonna be lit,” Zayki said. “So, we couldn’t wait to see them and hopefully tomorrow we get to see Manchester as well. Everyone’s excited to be here, all the soccer guys, so it’s gonna be great.”
More than just for the boys on the soccer team, Zayki hopes that having the two powerhouses face off in the United States will expand the influence of the world’s most popular sport to the states.
“For me, personally, I want Americans to see how big soccer is because soccer’s not really broadcasted really well here,” Zayki said, “so people coming out to see this game will motivate them to come more to see extra games and stuff, so it will just (make) Americans more aware of soccer in general.”
Added Michigan coach Chaka Daley: “This is the third time we’ve hosted it at the University of Michigan, so our school certainly understands the importance of the game to the community, to Ann Arbor, to the state of Michigan, so that’s great, from that standpoint, and then our players and our staff understand the significance and the fortunate nature we have in hosting such world powers at our place, and the humility we gotta have by having the best of the best at our facilities, so we’re certainly excited about it and happy they’re here again.”
While Saturday’s spectacle will mostly be fun and games, Daley understands the necessary commitment one needs to make to the sport to find success. Therefore, while he and his staff will be sure to soak up the atmosphere at the clash of the titans, Daley sees this display as a learning opportunity as well.
“We come for the enjoyment, but you certainly take some things in — how the teams play, how they react, how they respond — there will be some high-level stuff in the sense of when coaches make certain changes, timing—they’re still in preseason, so you think about those things as well,” Daley said.
“You can learn one thing and that one thing can be the difference or be unique or interesting for your group that you can put your spin on because your coaching’s not necessarily… you don’t replicate others, it’s those adjustments that you make.”
In terms of playstyle and what exactly can be gleaned from these two clubs, Daley sees his program as a hybrid between the two, mixing Liverpool’s hard-hitting, fast-paced offense with Manchester United’s stalwart defense.
But in terms of who he wants to win on Saturday, Daley made his motivations clear, responding, “Whoever I meet first.”