For Ali Reza Kazemaini life has been a soccer adventure which began in streets of Tehran (Born June 21, 1963) and sunny beaches of Southern California. As a young man he was often referred to on the field as a "Persian Cat". Distinguished, Unpredictable and even moody at times. A fan favorite of the Cleveland Force Professional soccer team he was in many ways similar to the finicky feline on and off the field. A versatile performer, when in mood to play demonstrated effortless ball handling, pin point accurate passing and extraordinary vision fit for an exceptional play maker.
However, his opponents could not tell which side of the Persian cat would appear each night. A two time all American at Cleveland State University (1981,83), Rookie of the year (1984) and a member of the League All star selection in the Professional Major Indoor Soccer League, Kazemaini was arguably one of the country's finest ball handlers.
Ricky Davis, former U.S. National team Captain and midfielder for New York Cosmos, St. Louis Steamers and Tacoma Stars says marking Kazemaini on the field is a gargantuan task. "The best way to defend him is to deny him the ball. Once he gets it he does what he does best...roll off people, turn and face you. Then you have lost the battle" says Davis. "The next best thing is to make him get rid of the ball and when all fails you foul him"
Said Jay Hoffman former assistant Coach with Cleveland Force, "When the game is on the line, I don't mind the ball at Kazy's feet"
Perhaps the biggest complement for Kazemaini was an invitation to represent the U.S. National team in the 1990 World cup in Italy by the current U.S.S.F. president Sunil Gulati. Unfortunately his citizenship papers were not approved prior to the event.
"For me the soccer field is a sanctuary where for that time spent on the field, you can forget about the world and feel at peace to express your self." Valuable life lessons will be learned playing this beautiful game. Faith, Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty, Commitment, Discipline, Sportsmanship and most of all humility are all processed and stimulated in one's mind when dealing with success, failure, wins and losses. There are no shortcuts. You get out what you put in!
When you step on the field, the game will often test your spirit. ONLY it will give you what you are after, when you have consistently applied your heart and sole. It is at that time that you become a fan for life. For sure I have learned that you can not be a "Persian Cat" on the field. But I identified an important lesson, that everyone needs to learn to look at themselves in the mirror before you look elsewhere for answers".
After his playing career, Kazemaini followed his instinct to give back to the game and the city that has had such an impact to his life.
He began his teachings in the city of Mentor (1992) creating the Impact program. Established Cleveland soccer academy and CSA IMPACT in 2004. Ironically the name "Impact" was picked by his first pupils. in 1992 he began his college coaching assignment at John Carroll University (1992-2005) to better polish his coaching philosophy and finished his 25-year collegiate career at Cleveland State University in 2017 (2006-2017).
When asked about his coaching accomplishments (combined 8 conference championships, 5 NCAA appearances including a sweet 16 appearance in 2003 and 4 conference coach of the year honors) in college soccer, Kazemaini pointed, "it is all part of giving back. I am most proud of the life lessons I educated my players with. And they probably were not aware that those principles won them championships".
In 2010, Kazemaini's Cleveland State Vikings handed the #1 ranked Akron University Soccer team their only loss of the season en route to winning the NCAA D1 National championship in front of a capacity crowed at CSU. When asked about the significance of that day, he chuckled.."On a given day Nothing is impossible, you just have to believe and stay committed to your wish". He forgot to mention that the CSU team roster for that magical night had 17 local players including 7 starters.
Looking back through scrap books remembering those early days, he gets emotional looking at one particular school essay written by the captain of that 1992 Impact team.... when asked about a person who has had an important influence on you and what qualities in that person you most admire, and how have you grown from knowing that person? He wrote:
"Basketball, tennis, ping-pong, golf and soccer. If the ball is round, he can play the sport. The ball enthusiast is Ali Kazemaini, my soccer coach for the past 5 years. Kazi, as my teammates and I affectionately call him, played professional soccer for eleven years, mastering the ins and outs of the game. He is disciplined, quick witted, experienced and skilled. The combination of his unique qualities makes soccer easy and fun. He has taught me everything I know about soccer. In the bigger picture, he has taught me valuable lessons for life".
The journey is not done yet. An assistant coaching assignment with U18 U.S. Men's national team this past June(2017) in Portugal will continue to open doors for Kazemaini to take his ideals to new territories. Kazemaini hopes to launch his foundation(The Ali Kazemaini Foundation) soon to reach beyond the soccer field to those who need a lending hand.In the meantime he will be nurturing the next generation of Cleveland boys and girls.
I would like to pay a special thanks to:
-My second Mom and Dad, Irena and Henrikas Johansonas along with their son Linas and daughter Aldona for welcoming me to their family and the unconditional love.
-My partner in life Shelly who makes my life complete with two blessed presents in my daughter Zahra and my son Ali Reza Jr.
-The Majerle family in particular Jovan and father Djuro for making me feel at home in Cleveland.
-Dennis J. Castiglione (Procom Marketing) for his friendship and guidance.