At this point in time, Michael Lahoud doesn’t really know what to think.
On one hand, the Union midfielder’s recent call-up to the Sierra Leone national team ahead of a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Equatorial Guinea is flattering. Given Lahoud’s recent return after he battled rehab resulting from sports hernia surgery early this year, the call to represent his birthplace on a national level “is an amazing honor,” Lahoud admitted Thursday.
On the same hand, his call-up was intriguing given he was forced to flee his homeland under fear of persecution or being forced to become a child soldier due to a violent civil war that plagued the country for much of the 1990s. Despite using his status to raise money for Sierra Leone under the "Schools for Salone" project, Lahoud said it’s been 21 years since he fled as young boy in 1992 -- at just six-years-old.
“When I found out [about the call-up], I was kind of like hold the phone,” Lahoud joked following Thursday’s training session in preparation for Saturday’s match against Montreal (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets). Lahoud will be available for selection for Saturday’s match but his Sept. 1 departure for the qualifier on Sept. 7 will see him miss the Union’s final West Coast trip this season against San Jose (Sunday, Sept. 8, 11 p.m., ESPN2). “It took me by surprise because I haven’t played that much this season, but I guess the minutes I have played were enough. I am excited and also anxious for the opportunity.”
Lahoud told philadelphiaunion.com that this isn’t the first time he’s received the call to represent the country he once was fled. Despite having dual citizenship in the United States, Lahoud noted that he was called up for a pair of matches in 2011 against Egypt and South Africa.
He refused both.
“One was for the African Cup of Nations and one was a [FIFA] World Cup qualifier,” said Lahoud. “At the time it was against two of the biggest teams in the continent. For whatever reason at that time, I just didn’t feel like I was ready and now I just feel that now I am a better player, man and I just feel like I am ready to take on this opportunity.”
Not knowing what to expect this time around, Lahoud leaned on good friend in Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara, who was also called up for the match. Good for Lahoud, who still needs to get a passport and immunizations before heading out of the country in just three days.
“Kei’s been a huge help for me in this process just getting ready for this trip over the past few weeks,” said Lahoud. “Anything from getting a passport ready which is something I’ve never had to think about since I’ve been a U.S. citizen for a while now to things about mental preparation, knowing what to pack and just the more business side of how things on a national team level is handled has really made this a lot easier.”
Lahoud admits he doesn’t know what to expect, but that playing here in Philadelphia since arriving last season in the deal that sent defender Danny Califf to Chivas USA has given him a leg up in preparation.
“I feel prepared for this and I feel ready,” said Lahoud. “I think playing in the environment that we have here [within the Union], the depth of our team, the competition every day I think is massive preparation for what I might be on for with my national team. The everyday focus I have to have playing here in Philadelphia only helps…also talking with guys like Conor Casey, Oka [Nikolov], Brian [Carroll] and Chris [Albright] who have been there before and listening to some of their experiences and picking their brains gives you a lot of insight which is so beneficial on how you must conduct yourself on that level.”
But that this trip is as much about taking in the experience as it is “cracking the starting XI.” Right now the focus is primarily making the starting lineup and help Sierra Leone inch close to a trip to Brazil next summer. It’s not going to be easy given the giants that stand in the way of Sierra Leone, but being a part of the grand plans to get there for now will suffice.
“The biggest thing I can say is that I am going there to soak it in, I am going there for the experience but I am also going there to break into the team and play,” said Lahoud. “Who knows where this leads, but I can only talk about what’s in front of me and right now I have this opportunity that I don’t plan on wasting. Things like this only come knocking a few times and it’s happened twice before.”
“I am hoping that in this case the third time truly is a charm.”
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org