Mohanad Jeahze arrives for D.C. United


PALM DESERT, Calif. – His name is Mohanad Jeahzeh and he’s DC United’s new left back.

“You can call me Mo,” he said Monday. “It’s easier on everyone.”

His personal and professional story is a bit more complicated.

Yeahzeh, 25, is an Iraqi Swede who, despite never having visited Iraq, was named to the national soccer team two years ago and has since made four World Cup qualifiers.

He is the middle child of two teachers, Kadim and Nagada, from war-torn Iraq in the 1990s who died while teaching language in Sweden. Their children were born in Sweden and raised in Linköping, a city with a large immigrant population of 165,000.

They learned Swedish and English and embraced the local culture. At home, they spoke Arabic and continued the family traditions that began in the north (his mother’s side) and the south (his father’s side) of Iraq. His parents, Jahze, don’t like to talk about the past.

Yeahzeh (pronounced Jah-haz) had classmates and teammates with Syrians, Afghans, and Somalis.

“For me, it was the perfect mix,” Jeahzeh said. “We met people from all over the place.”

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His football career flourished and he was called up to Sweden’s youth teams. It is not uncommon for players from immigrant families to represent Sweden. The most famous is superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose parents emigrated from Yugoslavia.

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Jeahzeh’s Iraqi teammate Amir al-Ammari followed in Jeahzeh’s footsteps by playing for Sweden’s under-19 team before leaving for his father’s native Iraq.

Jeahzeh is proud of his multiculturalism and upbringing. He said in his heart: “I feel both Swedish and Iraqi.”

“I think I’m from Iraq, but everything I’ve learned is from Sweden: school, football, everything,” he continued. “I still see myself as a Swede. “When people ask, I say that I was born here, but my parents are from Iraq.”

Yeahze’s journey to the Swedish senior national team took longer than he expected. Coaches told him he was close to getting drafted, but after a few years, “I was close for too long,” he said.

Iraqi football officials knew Jeahzeh’s roots well, so they kept in touch. In 2021, he committed to implementing a program that, like the country, was devastated by the war.

“Football is important in Sweden,” he said, “but when I play for Iraq, I understand how important it is to the people.”

At the beginning of his Iraqi service, Jeahze felt he had to prove himself both on and off the field. “Maybe some of them seemed to think, ‘You’ve had your life in Sweden. Nothing’s going to be easy for you here,'” he said. “I couldn’t do anything about it. Maybe they didn’t think I was as Iraqi as they were.”

Yeahze has started three games of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, sitting in the fourth position. Periodically banned from home games by FIFA due to security concerns, Iraq played most of its qualifiers in Qatar.

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“The first game [against Syria], I was really proud, but it would be nice to have fans there,” he said. “I was thinking about my family and how proud they would be.”

Iraq finished fourth in the six-nation group in the final round of the Asian Confederation competition and did not qualify. In 1986, the country won the only World Championship. The U23 national team reached the semi-finals at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

This winter, Iraq hosted its first international tournament in over 40 years and won the Arabian Gulf Cup for the first time since 1988. Jeahze was absent from the team as he was going through the US work visa process.

Before joining United, he played 2½ seasons for Hammarby, who finished third in the top division in 2022. Last summer, Yeahze was ready to move to Scotland (Celtic) or Turkey (Besiktas). Negotiations stopped. In the autumn, United began a serious pursuit.

Assistant manager Pete Shuttleworth attended Hammarby matches and briefed Rooney and the technical staff. United paid an estimated transfer fee of around $750,000 and signed him until 2025, with a club option until 2026.

“Pete thought he fit our system,” coach Wayne Rooney said. “He’s a very good ball player, he has a very good left foot, he’s good at attacking.”

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At the training camp, Jähze was paired with Icelandic midfielder Viktor Pálsson, who speaks Swedish thanks to one season at the Swedish club. To ease Jeahze’s transition, Palsson speaks to him in Swedish.

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Palsson is in his second MLS tour after playing for the New York Red Bulls in 2012. Until a few weeks ago, Jeahze had never been to the United States. Asked if he had introduced Jahze to anything new in America, Palsson said, “I’m trying to introduce him to lettuce right now because he needs to be fit.”

Rooney emphasized fitness. Jeahze, who was supposed to run the left wing in the DS system and join the attack, was a little behind.

“I told him he needs to work on his fitness. “He knows that,” Rooney said. “We’re pushing it.”

With 4½ weeks to go before the season opener with Toronto FC, Jeahzeh knows there are steps to be taken. United will play four matches at the Coachella Valley Invitational, starting Wednesday against Charlotte FC (90-minute match) and Vancouver Whitecaps (45 minutes).

“When DC showed interest, I thought it would be good,” Jeahze said. “I made it here. I like that. Now I have to keep working and show the club that they made the right decision.”


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