Samir Badr is home in Fairfax, uncertain what his future holds in Egypt’s suspended soccer league.
Badr, a 19-year-old goalkeeper, signed a long-term contract with league leader Haras El-Hodood in January – just nine days before the Port Said stadium disaster at the conclusion of the Al-Masry vs. Al-Ahly match left more than 70 dead and a thousand injured.
Badr was pegged to start his first match sometime this month, but with the league on hold through a mourning period that lasts until March 15, he and his teammates were given time off before regrouping in Cairo next weekend.
“I was very excited to go there and get my career started. I didn’t think it would unfold like this,” he said Friday. “There are so many mixed feelings. What happened was sad and tragic. Everyone was affected. … The mood has definitely switched.”
Another American soccer export in Egypt, Bob Bradley, is trying to resume his duties as the country’s national team coach.
Badr was born and raised in Northern Virginia. He played for the elite Bethesda Roadrunners youth squad before entering the U.S. Soccer residency program in Bradenton, Fla. After returning to the Washington area in 2009, he graduated from Robinson Secondary School and spent time in D.C. United’s academy alongside current D.C. starter Bill Hamid. His U.S. national portfolio includes the under-15, under-17 and under-20 squads.
Seeking a career overseas, he spent more than two years in Porto’s youth system in Portugal. Last year he had workouts with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and Zamalek in Egypt, as well as MLS’s Seattle Sounders, Chicago Fire and Portland Timbers.
Although Egypt is not a common destination for U.S. players, family roots pulled at Badr. His parents are Palestinian and grew up in Egypt before moving to the United States as teenagers. His father Mazen is the president of an engineering firm with government contracts; his mother Hanan is a former teacher. Arabic and English were spoken in their home. (Samir has since added Portuguese and Spanish to his linguistic repertoire.)
His Washington-based agent, Justin Stone, arranged workouts with Al-Masry and Haras El-Hodood, which, with a 12-1-1 record, is enjoying its finest season ever. The club is based in Cairo but plays in Alexandria, 120 miles to the northwest on the Mediterranean.
Awaiting paperwork to be completed before gaining eligibility, Badr traveled with the squad for an away match against Al-Ittihad on Feb. 1. There was a fan disturbance at that game as well -- fueled by the rivalry -- and Badr and his teammates had to weave through the crowd to reach the safety of the locker room following the 1-0 victory.
Later, at the team hotel, the players gathered around a TV to watch the match between Al-Masry and Al-Ahly, Haras El-Hodood’s closest pursuer in the league standings. After Al-Masry’s 3-1 upset, Al-Ahly players and supporters were attacked by the home fans. Police did little to stop the violence, leading to accusations that the military regime had orchestrated the mayhem as retribution for Al-Ahly fans’ prominent role in the country’s revolution last year.
“We watched it, we saw it all,” Badr said. “We couldn’t believe our eyes. It was politics, and it came out through soccer.”
Although Haras El-Hodood wasn’t involved, the club felt the effects. With links to the Egyptian military — the team is known as the Border Guards or Frontier Guard — the players were sequestered in their hotel rooms as angry mobs gathered outside. Bottles were hurled at the building, he said, and the army was summoned to escort the delegation from harm.
The stadium disaster prompted soccer officials to shut down the league indefinitely.
Badr spoke with an Al-Ahly player. “He told me two people died in his arms.”
With the season suspended, Badr and his teammates trained in neighboring Sudan for a week before returning to Egypt.
“Our coaching staff is saying the season may be cancelled,” he said. “We have to wait for the decisions.”
Despite the uncertain situation, Badr quickly dismissed any thought of leaving his Egyptian club for a more stable career path.
“Right now, my focus is completely on my team in Egypt,” he said. “Everyone is trying to move forward. There are risks starting back the league. For me, I want to help pick up the club and get the league back on its feet.”