wore them for some games after the camp, but I kind of kept them as the first cleats I got from the national team,” said Cal men’s soccer forward Arman Samimi. “And so they’re still in my room, and they still look really good.”
The sophomore striker from sunny La Jolla is, of course, referring to the grey and orange Nike Hypervenom cleats he got shortly before reporting to the domestic training camp for the U.S. Under-16 Boys’ Youth National Team in Davis, California for the very first time.
“You probably know them,” Samimi said. “They were the ones that Neymar wore in the Copa America. They were the gray with the orange graphic.”
Everyone who played soccer during the summer of 2016 knows those cleats: matte grey with a huge, bright orange Nike swoosh plastered across the top, complete with a speckled orange heel plate.
The newest development in the world of soccer cleats at the time was the “high-top” — the addition of a sock-like cover (a bit of breathable fabric on each cleat) for the ankles.
“A lot of other kids (at the camp) just got the low-top version,” Samimi said. “I remember when I took out my cleats, they were like, ‘Did you buy these or did they send you these?’ They were like, ‘How’d you get the high-top?’ ”
That pair of cleats was a gem in the treasure trove of gear that the U.S. Youth National Team (USYNT) sent Arman shortly after he was called up for the very first time. But they were no more than the cherry on top of some of the most memorable and rewarding months of his life.
The story of Arman Samimi’s first national team call-up begins much earlier than this.
“I remember the summer before, my Mom and I were at a soccer store and she bought a U.S. jacket. It was a really nice Nike U.S. jacket. It was one of those nice windbreakers,” Samimi said. “I told her ‘If I make the national team next year, whenever the next camp is, if I make the national team, I want that jacket.’”
A call-up to the National Team had been a dream of Samimi’s for a long time. In the summer of 2015, the forward felt that a breakout season was all he needed to earn that coveted phone call from Shaun Tsakiris, the former USYNT head coach for the under-16 and under-17 boys’ teams.
The following summer, Samimi became a star, finishing the 2016 season as one of the top three goal scorers in the country with his club squad, Albion S.C. of San Diego.
In May of that year, one game stands out in Samimi’s memory, namely, the very last game of the season at the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Regional Showcase tournament in Dallas, Texas.
“I remember it was super hot. In the last game, I scored three goals and our team won 4-0 and I had played a really good game,” Samimi said. “That game pushed my numbers to be within the top three goalscorers in the country.”
Scouts from all over the world were there to watch the 14-year-old score a hat-trick, including a scout from the German first-division club and European powerhouse Borussia Dortmund.
Throughout that season, the forward had received invitation after invitation to attend regional USYNT training camps and practice sessions with the best youth players from the region. Even after attending about five training camps in Los Angeles, finishing as one of the best young goalscorers in the country and bagging five goals at one of the most prestigious club tournaments in the country, Samimi was not ready to celebrate just yet.
After that big game in Dallas, Samimi and his father were at a tournament fan shop: an open-air store underneath a pop-up tent meant to provide some relief from the blistering Texas sun.
“My coach was also in there, kind of looking at a few things, and I wanted to get a U.S. soccer shirt. My coach said, ‘What are you buying that for? You know you’re going to go to the (domestic training) camp in August,’ ” Samimi said. “I mean, I still bought the shirt, but every time I look at the shirt, I remember that.”
“It was a very chill, mellow night. That’s what I do remember. I remember we weren’t really thinking of it too much. I was just out with my family. We had eaten dinner,” Samimi said. “And then we usually walked around the streets just because it was the summer. It was nice, so we were out just kind of exploring the city.”
Samimi had spent much of that summer on trial with Borussia Dortmund, but now it was time to fly home in time for the young star’s first day of high school. He and his family decided to visit Verona, Italy first, before flying back to California.
The forward, who would turn 15 years old in a few weeks, had been in close contact with the director of Albion S.C. over the course of the day, as the coveted call-up seemed imminent.
It was in a hotel room in the northern Italian city where William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet took place that Samimi got a love letter (of sorts) from the sport he had adored for his entire life.
“It was pretty late at night, I remember. I think my sister was asleep. I think my mom was the one who told me,” Samimi said as an audible grin spread across his face. “I was just extremely excited because it was a goal that I had set for that season, and for me and my family, it was a big honor to be selected to the national team.”
It didn’t take long for the news of Samimi’s call-up to spread.
“I actually didn’t even have social media at the time, so I wasn’t posting anything, but I definitely told my close friends and then the news got out,” Samimi said.
Albion S.C. wasted no time in letting the soccer world know of its future alumnus’ accomplishment.
“It’s a very good club, but it’s not as big as some of the MLS clubs. I think in the entire club’s history, there had been three or four players who have made the national team,” Samimi said. “All of the coaches were texting, and they obviously branded the news on Instagram and everything.”
Samimi didn’t have much time before reporting for a week to the domestic training camp. In the heat of the moment, all other responsibilities seemed to fade away.
The youngster’s mother reminded him of one in particular.
“My mom was also thinking: ‘Well, what about school? What are you going to do? Your school is going to be starting soon,’ ” Samimi said with an emulatory urgency.
During his very first day on the Bishop School’s campus, the hometown hero had some explaining to do.
“I remember the first day of school, I had to go in with an absence form. … I was already having to tell my teachers (that I would be gone soon),” Samimi said. “My teachers already knew about my soccer, but they don’t want to see a student on the first day already having the absence form filled out. But they understood.”
“I remember I was going to go to practice,” Samimi said. “This was like three days before I was actually going to go to camp, like before I was going to get on the flight and go, and there was a huge box outside.”
Shortly after being told to report to camp, Samimi completed an equipment form. He was to receive a batch of U.S. Soccer branded gear — sweatpants, jackets, polo shirts and more — all of which he would need in order to look the part of a national team player.
When the massive brown box arrived at his doorstep, it was as if Christmas had come early.
“I mean they send you like two of everything you asked for. I even have a picture in my family living room with all of the gear that I had laid out — all the polos, the running shoes, the cleats, the backpack, the travel bag,” said Samimi. “That was awesome because as a kid that’s what you dream of: wearing the actual crest and then traveling through the airport wearing the gear.”
Needless to say, the U.S. Soccer jacket his mother had promised him the summer prior was unnecessary now. Young Arman’s dream had come true.
This is the first in a series entitled “Soccer Memories,” which highlights the most memorable moments and events from the careers of Cal men’s soccer players thus far.
William Cooke covers men’s soccer and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]