Sophomore Omar Zeenni’s value to the UC Davis men’s soccer team is one that cannot be put in numbers. Zero, though, is a measurement that can be associated with his name.
Zero is very likely the number of goals he will score in his career with the Aggies. It is also, in many games, the number of balls that get past him into the UC Davis goal.
Zeenni sat down with Aggie Sports Writer Matthew Yuen to discuss his role on the team and what it takes to be their outspoken trilingual leader and goalie, all as a sophomore.
When kids grow up, they always imagine scoring goals on goalies like you. How did you end up on the other side?
When I was young I could kick the ball harder than anyone else, but when I grew up I couldn’t run as well on the big field. So I picked up some gloves around eight years old, and since then I’ve loved playing goalie.
How does fitness come into play as a goalie?
For me, my biggest issue was my weight. Goalie fitness is different from player fitness. It’s a lot more hitting the ground and getting up – footwork stuff. But goalie training wasn’t enough for me, so I started doing the workouts for regular players. [Goalie trainer] Jason Hotaling saw my potential and has been getting me in shape. I’ve lost 10 to 15 pounds and that also helps my psychological aspect of the game, knowing I’m healthy and I can last the whole game. I’m now in better shape mentally and physically.
What’s it like going into the goal knowing you’re the only thing standing between your opponent and the goal?
Keeping mental focus is essential – if I’m not concentrating the whole game, they can score. I have ADHD so I’m always thinking about something else. I try to stay focused by always talking and communicating the entire game, whether it’s 90 minutes or 110. If you want to get to know me come stand behind the goal and listen to me talk the whole time.
How does communication play a part in your team’s success?
We have a young team and we’re all just getting used to each other. Everyone’s good in their own way; we just need to put all their unique talents into the team. I’m big on communicating. My defense relies heavily on what I say.
Speaking of communication skills, you speak Spanish and Arabic along with English?
None of my grandparents speak English. On my mom’s side the only way I can talk to them is in Spanish. My dad is Lebanese so my grandparents on that side only speak Arabic. I have to pick up bits and pieces, since I know more Spanish than Arabic.
It takes a certain mental capacity to speak three distinct languages. How does the mind play a part in your role as a goalie?
When the other team has penalty kicks or one-on-one chances against me, it comes down to the mind games. I always tell myself I have a better chance of saving the ball than they have of scoring. I try to keep better position and hold confidence.
What’s it like being in the goal during a penalty kick?
It’s all about those mind games. I try to stay big and stay on my feet as long as possible. Last year I fractured my wrist so I played forward during practice and this allowed me to see the other side of the ball in that situation. I’ll talk to my opponents before, I’ll stay on one side so they think they can go the other way. Whatever will help my team win.
As goalie, you see everything happen from the backfield. Is there some responsibility that goes along with that, especially for you as a sophomore?
It takes a lot of responsibility, and thankfully I’ve been able to earn the respect of my teammates. I couldn’t ask for a better defense to help me out, with Rene [Cuellar] and Lance [Patterson] as the seniors. I hope my teammates respect me and listen to me because that makes my job a little easier. But I owe any success to my teammates – I don’t need any awards, as long as I get the respect of coaches and teammates and we win. That’s all I care about.
As a goalie, in a way, you’re kind of alone on the field. How have your teammates helped you develop as a player?
These guys are like my brothers. I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me. We try to respect each other, and I’ll admit that since we haven’t been getting good results in our game, communication has been a bit more vulgar. But we always just want to be supportive and make each other better. They’ve also helped keep me healthy. One time I made a sandwich at the DC and one of my teammates saw what was in it and threw it away. They’re my teammates and are always looking out for me, which I really appreciate.
Coach [Dwayne] Shaffer insists your team continues to grow every game. How is the rest of the season looking?
You can easily get down on results, but we still have high hopes for the season. Last year at this point, we were 2-6-0. This year we are 2-4-2, but one of those was a huge win against UCLA, so we’re going to keep setting high goals and those won’t change based on the last couple games. We’re young but we aren’t naïve.
MATT YUEN can be reached at email@example.com.