Nov. 9, 2010
By Larry Watts
University of Michigan soccer brothers Hamoody and Soony Saad rarely have disagreements, except when it comes to the amount of time it takes to travel from the Ann Arbor campus to their home in Dearborn, normally a 35-minute drive.
"With Moody driving, it's 20 minutes," Soony says with a laugh. "I'm looking for the cops and he's just going."
"When I need to be there, it's more like 25 minutes," Moody counters. "I've been back and forth so many times because I commuted for classes during the summer. I already know where all the cop cars are and where they pull people over."
The Saad brothers, the second set of brothers to play for Michigan, are two key pieces in the foundation head coach Steve Burn is using to build the Wolverine soccer program into a consistent power in the Big Ten. Since joining the conference in 2000, Michigan has never won a league title and has finished second twice. However, the breakthrough to that championship could be coming soon.
As a forward last season, the 5-foot-11 Hamoody made 14 starts, finishing third on the team with 16 points (five goals and six assists), and was named to the Big Ten's all-freshman team. He has been moved back to attacking midfielder this season and, despite missing five games with hip flexor and groin injuries, he has scored three goals and picked up one assist.
Soony is well on his way to becoming the Big Ten's top freshman in 2010. The first Gatorade National Player of the Year to sign with the Wolverines, the 5-10 forward has already scored 12 goals and collected one assist. The former four-time all-state selection at Dearborn High School set state records for career (172) and single-season (76) goals.
But his lone assist at Michigan has been a big one. Locked in a 0-0 tie with Penn State, he found his older brother open for the lead goal in a 2-1 victory.
"The goalie hit the ball right to Moody and he tapped it over to me," says Soony. "I was one-on-one with the defender. Then I spotted Moody on the overlap and slipped it to him. He just rolled it in from about six yards out with his left foot, the foot he said he wouldn't use because of his injury. Fortunately, the goalie guessed far post and Moody put it on the near post."
Earlier in the season, the Saads each scored a goal within 10 minutes of each other to preserve a 2-2 tie with Seattle and became the first set of brothers to ever score in one game for the Wolverines.
"It wasn't until a couple of days later that we found out we were the first brothers to score in the same game," Soony says. "We really don't pay much attention to stuff like that. We're more focused on how the team is doing."
Scoring in the same game is nothing new for the brothers, who have been playing together since before they entered kindergarten. Their appreciation for the sport came from their father, Ali, a native of Lebanon who is at all their matches.
"He's always been our coach," says Moody. "He was coaching our sisters' travel teams and in order to play for him, I had to move up three grade levels and Soony had to move up four. To this day, he's still telling us things to do and coaching us. Our coaches don't seem to mind because they realize he is so knowledgeable."
Although Ali will try to blend in with the student fan section, the Michigan Ultras, by wearing one of the yellow shirts, Soony says he easily stands out with his shouting and hand gestures.
"He's got special signals for both of us," Soony says. "If we do well, he'll say it's because he told us to make those plays. I don't know if he realizes we can't hear him when there's a big crowd."
Although academics is the top priority in the Saad household, Ali never hesitated to pull his sons out of school at a very early age just so they could come home and watch the Champions League soccer on TV.
"Every Tuesday and Wednesday, we would have to come up with a new excuse to get out of school to watch the tournaments," Moody says. "I don't think the teachers had any idea what we were really doing."
"He must have over 500 soccer tapes in his collection," Soony says of his father. "His mother didn't allow him to play much soccer because he was always getting hurt, so I think through my brother and my sisters he has been able to relive the soccer he didn't get to play."
It even got to the point where the Saad living room would become a soccer field. One of the siblings would be the goalie while the others would try to score on headers.
"My mother quickly learned to get all the breakables out of the way," Soony says. "We could do this for hours and my mother would always have a big meal waiting for us when we were done."
"The whole house was our playing field," says Moody. "We put mats and covers down on the floor in the basement and we flipped up a mattress to use as a small goal. Then our dad would be down there yelling instructions to us.
"Outside, we would use our dad's van as a goal and we dented that up pretty good. We had a bay window in the front of our old house that we used for a goal. We tried to keep the ball low so we wouldn't break the window. I don't think we ever did, but we did break some of the wooden strips on the window. A year after we moved out, I drove past the house and there was still a ball mark on the window from when we played."
And rain never stopped the Saad brothers from taking a soccer ball outside.
"There would be a lot of cars in the street and we used to play a game where one person would skip the ball off the hood of a car and the other person would have to receive it with one touch," says Moody.
The tightness of the Saad family is one of the prime reasons the two brothers wound up together at Michigan. Oldest sister Summar, 22, is planning to head to medical school after graduating last year from Michigan-Dearborn, where the parents met as undergrads. Their sister Hannan, 21, is a senior at Wayne State in Detroit.
"I never really did a lot of research into schools," says Moody, who scored 30 goals in his final prep season at Dearborn. "Michigan made an offer right away. I had a couple of friends here and it was so close to home. I knew the academics were great (at Michigan) and they had a developing program, so once they came with the offer I pretty much stopped talking to schools like Michigan State, West Virginia, Louisville and Villanova.
"As for Soony, he could have had any scholarship he wanted. However, I think many of the schools backed off because I was at Michigan and they soon realized how much we loved playing with each other."
"Another part of the reason I came here was because I wanted to help Michigan soccer get on the map and a lot of the players we have now are on the same page with that idea," says Soony. "And I don't think it will be long before we actually do that."
It hasn't taken Soony long to establish himself as the Wolverines' top gun. His 90 shots are tops in the Big Ten while he stands second in the conference with 12 goals and third with 25 points.
"I'm just trying to help us win some games and qualify for the NCAA Tournament," he says. "I feel like I need to score at least once a game; that's the forward's job. But I also like to pass because I want to incorporate everyone into the game. If I worry about my team first, my chances will come and then my job is put away the chances I get."
Moody has no problem having his freshman brother being looked at as the go-to player on the team.
"I wanted to be that person last year, but I never really developed into the flow" he says. "I think Soony's play motivates others, especially the seniors, to work harder because they realize a freshman is doing so well."
According to Moody, having Soony on the field at the same time is just like old times in high school and club ball.
"Unfortunately, because of my injuries, we haven't had that many opportunities this year as I would have liked," he says. "I've been playing with him so long that I feel like I always know where he is going to be. He thinks like a professional and always seems to be making the right runs, so it's easy for me to pick him out and play it to him."
"Most of the time Moody doesn't even look when he's hitting the ball because he knows I will be in that area," Soony says. "I am really comfortable playing with him and confident in our ability. His mind is very advanced for someone at this level and he can really pick a defense apart."
As a freshman, Soony lives in a dorm while his brother shares an apartment. However, the two of them make sure they have lunch and dinner together as often as possible.
"The cafeteria food really isn't up to my standards," Soony says. "My parents are always bringing food to us, so we stock up his refrigerator and try to get together every day."
"As long as he's eating healthy, I don't care," says Moody.
And though he is enjoying his first year away from home, Soony appreciates the fact he has an older brother around.
"He's not like my dad, where I have to tell him where I'm going every day, but he is an older brother and I like the fact he keeps an eye on me," he says. "It's also good for my parents to know we are keeping a watchful eye on each other."
"I just try to make sure he stays out of trouble, not that he's looking for any," says Moody. "I'm a year older, so I've been there and done that. I just try to keep him away from things that are not good for his health or body."
Both players have professional soccer aspirations. But just in case, Moody is majoring in psychology with the hope of eventually entering pre-law. Soony, who is toying with the idea of a major in German, is heading in the direction of becoming a teacher and would also like to coach soccer to younger players.
"I've spent time at some camps and I still don't know how my dad had the patience to handle it," Soony says. "I like the idea of passing on knowledge to the next generation."
Right now, the next generation is hoping to lead Michigan to its first Big Ten title as well as becoming a traditional power in the conference.