Sciaretta's Scouting Report

Israeli-American Attacker Kenny Saief Lands at Gent

The talented 20-year-old enjoyed a breakout 2013-14 campaign in Israel, and has parlayed that success into a move to Belgian power Gent. ASN's Brian Sciaretta has more on the Israeli-American athlete.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 11, 2014
12:11 PM
THE UNITED STATES is a nation of immigrants, a land of opportunity, and a massive global power that casts a long shadow. For these and other reasons, there is a long list of dual-citizenship athletes who have represented the U.S. in soccer over the past few decades.

Kenny Saief, 20, is another promising athlete who is eligible to play for the United States.

Born in Panama City, Fla., while his Israeli parents were working in the U.S., the Saief family moved back to Israel when Kenny was four. Saief later spent time in some of Israel’s top youth academies and even had a stint at 1860 Munich during his teenage years.

Last year, however, proved to be the tipping point for Saief when struggling Israeli club Ironi Ramat HaSharon turned to him to boost the team’s attack during its relegation-plagued season. In the end, Saief did not disappoint, scoring 10 goals in 31 appearances and establishing himself as one of the best young players in Israel. His goal against Beitar Jerusalem, below, ranks among the best of the 2013-14 campaign. “It was the best moment in my life in my first year in the top league in Israel after scoring all those goals,” Saief told American Soccer Now. “It was really a great season. They always talk about the goal against [Beitar Jersualem]. But I forget and I want to score goals like that in Belgium.”

With Ramat HaSharon’s relegation, Saief became highly sought after and it was a widely reported story in the Israeli media as to where Saief would transfer. It was also complicated because there was a dispute regarding whether or not his contract was owned by Ramat HaShsharon or Beitar Nes Tubruk, his previous youth academy and one of the best in Israel. Resolving this issue through an arbitrator took much longer than expected but eventually the transfer to Gent went through for a reported €210,000.

Saief missed the entire Belgian preseason but managed to make his Gent debut just before the international window closed, coming on as a 72nd minute substitute in a 1-0 loss to Kortrijk.

“I’m very happy,” Saief said. “It’s a big move for me to move from the Israeli league to a better league like Belgium. I’m very proud. I am so happy. I want to prove myself here and give 110% for Gent—score goals, get assists, help the team win more games, and just to have a good season.”

“It is a little bit hard to start playing after three months but I was just waiting for my move,” Saief said. “They had already started the season and played four games. They are [near the top of] the table. I will train and work hard and I hope I will get my chance soon. It’s possible. I am young so I need to work very hard to get my chance. The coach likes me and I will have to take my chance and prove I deserve to play. I just wanted to move into Europe to become a better player.

"I had many options in Israel but I didn’t want to stay in Israel. I just wanted to move to Europe. It is much better than Israel and I wanted to play at a higher level. It is a really big challenge but I am ready for this. It’s no problem. I want this challenge.”

On the topic of his international future, Saief has been consistently playing for Israel’s youth national teams throughout his young career. He is now a regular with an Israeli U-21 team that has already defeated Holland, Norway, and Russia this year.

Still, Saief is well aware that by being born in Florida, he has options internationally. He has never returned to the U.S. since he left but has followed the progress of the sport in the United States and still harbors hope that the U.S. will show interest if he is able to carry his success over to the Belgium league.

“It’d be a big honor to play for the USA national team,” Saief said. “I had good games with Israel but to play with the USA is a big honor. It’s not like playing for a small country. It’s a big country and they play every four years in the World Cup. I supported the USA at the World Cup. They did well. They played really good, hard, and fast soccer. The last game, I think they deserved to win. In the last minute they could have scored.”

After spending the international break with Israeli’s U-21 team, Saief is now back in Belgium with Gent, which hosts second-place Mouscron-Péruwelz on Sunday.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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