For many student-athletes, the end of studying at a college or university means the end of his or her playing career.
Dearborn-based soccer team Cedars FC is challenging that notion, allowing former, current and aspiring college players to compete in a semi-professional league.
As high school and college students start the soccer season, Cedars FC is proving that competing with and against one’s peers doesn’t end after senior year.
Getting off the ground
The team was formed two years ago, combining two local Dearborn squads: The Dearborn Stars and Michigan Sporting merged into one larger club, incorporating the city’s Lebanese heritage into its colors and team name.
Last year, Cedars FC played in the Michigan Premier Soccer League, but has since moved to the United Premier Soccer League, giving the team a larger platform to showcase talent.
“We have a mix of veteran and current college players from a lot of local schools,” Cedars FC head coach Mo Salman said. “The majority of the players in the league are former college players and those that have played overseas at a high level. The league itself was very competitive this year, and a lot of teams we played against have players that could play at even a professional level. Switching from MPSL to UPSL gave us a lot more exposure.”
Meet the coach
Born and raised in Senegal, Salman grew up playing the game of soccer “since he started walking.”
After moving to Virginia in 1985, he arrived in Dearborn in 1998, where he began coaching his son’s youth soccer teams. His coaching resume expanded, eventually earned him coaching positions at Fordson High School.
One challenging aspect of the head coaching role with Cedars FC is managing the talent from across the city’s high schools, Salman said. Players join the team from Dearborn High, Fordson, Edsel Ford, Crestwood, Divine Child and elsewhere once their high school careers are over.
Students who have played at colleges such as the University of Michigan, Adrian College, Wayne State, Schoolcraft and even out-of-state schools like Bowling Green University are also members of the team.
These former high school soccer players who once faced off against each other in heated cross-city school rivalries now join together to win games for Cedars FC.
“These players have high expectations coming in,” Salman said. “We have a roster of about 36 players, picking 20 players on game day, then picking the 11 starters. A lot these guys have played together or against one another, so it wasn’t difficult getting them to play together as a team.”
Cedars FC enjoyed a successful debut season in the UPSL, playing home games at Fordson High School to large crowds of family, friends and supporters. The team’s final record was 8-1-1, earning the club first place in the Midwest East Division while winning all five home games.
“It was a great accomplishment for the team,” Salman said. “When we started, I had doubts because of the players’ availability changing from week to week. We had such a large and diverse group of players and personalities, and were able to do what we did against really tough competition.”
The team’s season came to an end July 6, losing to Detroit United FC in the Midwest East Division championship game with a final score of 4-0.
Detroit United FC moved on to the UPSL National Playoffs, but lost in the first round.
Salman said one of the team’s most important goals is developing young players, including international ones, and earning them exposure to potentially play at the next level.
“The end game for this team is to take some of the younger kids, and give them the option to play competitive soccer at a much higher physical level,” he added. “We have a lot of younger talent on this team that deserves to be exposed. I can count at least five who could easily play for the Lebanese or Iraqi national team. Ultimately, we are hoping to get these kids talked about or read about at the national level.”
The veteran leader
At the age of 33, Haroun Odeh is one of the oldest players on the team, embracing the role of the veteran leader that all great teams have. Odeh graduated from Fordson in 2006, and now works as high school language arts teacher, but still plays the game he’s been passionate about ever since he was a kid.
“The kids I’m playing with are a lot younger, and they eat (and) breathe soccer like I did at that age,” Odeh said. “Now I’m kind of a role model on the team. It’s a different perspective when you get older. One of my favorite things is motivating them to get to the next level. For these guys, I want their attention on earning scholarships and moving to the next level. There’s endless possibilities for the guys on this team.”
What lies ahead
Salman said that next year, he hopes to have a more formal tryout process for Cedars FC, limiting the roster size. He added that local businessman and team owner Dr. Ned Fawaz is committed to growing the club, and potentially traveling internationally to play soccer.
For now, Cedars FC is focused on growing the team within Dearborn, and continuing to play well in the UPSL.
“I really enjoy having a Dearborn-based team that people love to come watch,” Odeh said. “I plan to play as long as I can, until I’m a setback to the team. Every year, we’re going to have new seniors that are graduating high school and that are looking for a place to play. We all take pride in it, and we hope it keeps growing for the future generations as the older guys leave them.”