FC Cincinnati’s Nazmi Albadawi on stepping up to MLS and playing for Palestine

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As off-seasons go, the one Nazmi Albadawi just plowed through could be best described as truncated. First the attacking midfielder was called up for Palestine, the homeland of his grandparents, and promptly scored on his debut. Not too many weeks afterward, Albadawi signed an MLS contract with FC Cincinnati after an impressive season in the team’s final lower-league campaign before they joined the US top-flight this year. To top it off, he then had to dash home to North Carolina during Palestine’s warm-ups for January’s Asian Cup: he was getting married.

“It was the best off-season of my life – my wedding was the best day of my life,” he says. And of the footballing step-up ahead: “Being in training camp in Qatar and the Asian Cup in Dubai I think was the best preparation I could have for my first MLS season.”

Those frenetic weeks also brought Albadawi into close proximity with Palestine’s thorny political backdrop, and the bureaucratic challenges that accompany the national team. His first insight into those complexities came after his goalscoring debut in a 2-1 win against Pakistan in Palestine in November. A few days later, with the team due to play away to China, he was part of a diaspora contingent with foreign passports forced to travel separately to the Palestine-based players whose local travel papers mean added red tape. “It’s difficult for them to get in and out,” Albadawi says. “Seeing what they go through put a lot of things into perspective for me. I’m very lucky to have been born [in the US], to live here but I’m also very proud to be Palestinian, to represent Palestine.”

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