By Florinda Gjypi | September 25, 2023
The University at Albany men’s soccer team has one of the strongest international presences out of any program at the school, with nearly all of the squad hailing from abroad. Saad Faiz, a junior forward from Morocco, has defined what it means to be an international student athlete through his experience as a Great Dane.
Faiz celebrates during a 2021 game against UMass Lowell.
Photo Credit: Jay Bendlin
Coming fresh out of practice with a big smile on his face, Faiz is full of energy. For him, soccer is about family. He talks about his teammates with love and dedicates all of his successes as a soccer player to his five-year-old sister Alya. This was the hardest part about leaving Morocco for Albany, a journey he’s figured out much on his own.
Faiz came to the United States at 18 and claims that in the beginning he was still getting comfortable speaking English. It was also his first time living away from his family.
“I had to learn to live by myself and that wasn’t very easy,” Faiz said. “I developed a very strict work ethic and now that I look back I’m very proud of myself and at the same time very grateful for the opportunity that I was given.”
While the culture shock wasn’t easy, soccer came quickly to Faiz at UAlbany. On October 13, 2021 he scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory over UMass Lowell, for which he was awarded America East rookie of the week. At the end of the year, he was named to the conference’s all-rookie team.
“Being awarded by the conference definitely meant a lot,” Faiz said. “I wanted it very badly and I worked so hard for it and achieving something like that boosts your confidence.”
Now in year three, Faiz has played in seven out of eight games so far, missing only one against Penn due to a minor injury.
This isn’t the only injury Faiz has suffered this year. Faiz has struggled staying healthy for the last several months with a leg injury preventing him from opportunities offered by clubs such as Fort Wayne FC in Indiana.
“Most of my summer consisted of resting and recovering, as my injury held me off the field for a couple of months,” Faiz said. “But I was back just in time for preseason, so it wasn’t that bad.”
Faiz attributes the Great Danes’ performance so far this season to the great teamwork and competitiveness by every individual player at the same time.
“I think we have a great squad. We have a great shape in the field and we’re defending pretty good,” Faiz said.
While UAlbany is 4-5, Faiz has a glass half-full perspective on four of the team’s five losses only being by one goal, such as a 1-0 defeat against the defending champion Syracuse Orange.
“We are getting experience out of it rather than letting them discourage us,” Faiz said. “The win against Lafayette College was a big one, so we’re trying to keep that kind of performance going.”
Faiz spent his summer abroad in his hometown in Casablanca, the most populous city of Morocco. As he emphasizes, distance from one’s family is never easy, especially during hard times and natural disasters like the earthquake that took place in the country on Sept. 8, 2023. While reports vary, some estimates have the death toll at nearly 3,000 people.
During a home game against Marist College on Sept. 9, Faiz appeared wearing a white shirt that wrote “Pray For Maroc” on it, as a way to raise awareness for his country’s recent tragedy.
Faiz shows solidarity for his country during a game against Marist College.
Photo Credit: UAlbany Great Danes’ Instagram / @ualbanygreatdanes
“It’s such a difficult time for my country and the people there have been impacted very badly by it,” Faiz said. “Of course, it feels bad to not be present there right now and I felt like sending a message to the community through social media was the best I could do for now. My heart is with Morocco, although I’m very far from it.”
As someone who’s rooted himself in the UAlbany sports community, he’s come to embrace the international student athlete experience and hopes anybody in the same position as him two years ago can learn to do the same.
“You’ll learn so much about new cultures, meet so many new people, learn to be independent, and get a chance to prove yourself in the field,” Faiz said. “Yes, you’re going to go through a lot but everything is about balance and if you balance it well, it is going to be one of the best experiences ever. Plus, your teammates are your friends for life.”