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Davis Soccer Star is On Fire!

Chicago Fire defender Jalil Anibaba (center) at the Davis Soccer & Lifestyle.

My name is Paulo Camacho, and this is Macho Sports.

When one thinks of the city of Davis, a few things come to mind: the iconic British-style red double decker buses of Unitrans; its notoriety as Bike City, USA; and its reputation as a small college town. However, despite these reputations, it is easy to overlook its sporting history – particularly, its affinity for spawning notable college and professional athletes.

For instance, Jason Fisk, a Davis High alum, was a defensive lineman who, most notably, played on a Tennessee Titans team that came within one play of a Super Bowl championship. J.T. O’Sullivan, an NFL quarterback for 11 different teams, was one of UCD’s most decorated football players. Nick Watney, a PGA tour golfer with five professional wins, played on the Davis High school golf team. Recently, the latest in this line of local talented athletes made his presence felt in the professional ranks, and returned to his hometown.

Jalil Anibaba, a standout soccer player who was drafted to Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire less than a month ago, made a long-anticipated appearance at Soccer & Lifestyle in downtown Davis, on January 26th. He was greeted by many of his loyal friends, fans and supporters as he arrived, humbly and without much fanfare. Rami Rashmawi, who played for Anibaba on the local U-11 (Under 11) and U-12 (Under 12) soccer teams, had been a fan for a long time.

“Actually, [the MLS draft] happened while I was at school, so we recorded it and watched it,” Rashmawi said. “It was actually really cool, because we were saying, ‘We know this guy.’”

Born in Fontana, California, near Fullerton, Anibaba grew up in Davis with his brothers, Jammil and Sule, as a soccer enthusiast. It was these memories that stood out the most for Anibaba.

“Playing soccer here in Davis with my closest friends, my family – my brothers and my dad – [is] definitely what I think about when I’m playing at the highest levels, going back to when I was just a little kid,” Anibaba recalled. That’s allowed me to keep playing, and keep it fun and relaxed.”

Anibaba was an alumni of the Davis Legacy Soccer Club, and a standout soccer player for Davis High. From 2004 to 2007, Anibaba received many awards and accolades, including Delta Valley Conference defensive MVP in 2005; being named to the All-Delta Valley Conference team from 2004 to 2006, and the All-Metro team in 2005 and 2006; being named Delta Valley Conference MVP for the 2006-07 season, racking up 16 goals and 12 assists; and winning the California Gatorade Player of the Year award that same year. He also led Davis High to the sectional playoffs in 2007, while winning a championship with the Blue Devils in 2006. On top of everything, he had the opportunity to play on the U-18 (Under 18) and U-20 (Under 20) U.S. National Soccer teams.

His stellar performances as a Blue Devil led him to play at Santa Clara University, where he continued to excel. He was named West Coast Conference (WCC) Freshman of the Year, leading his Santa Clara squad in minutes played. He was named to the All-WCC second team during his sophomore year, and earned Team Captain honors in his junior season, in 2009. From there, he earned All-WCC first team honors, as well as a spot on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-West Regional team. He subsequently transferred to the University of North Carolina in 2010, for his senior season, where he didn’t miss a beat: as a Defender for UNC, he led a defense that allowed only 0.71 goals against average. He was named Second-Team All-America, NCSAA First Team All-Region and First-Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for his efforts.

Following his impressive college career, Anibaba decided to enter the MLS SuperDraft, taking his game to the professional level. Experts said he was the most impressive at the pre-draft Combine, and a projected top-10 pick. Through the whole process, Anibaba took it all in stride.

“Leading up to the draft, there was just a lot of preparation for the combine, and being physically and mentally ready,” he said. “A lot of talks with my agent, a lot of talks with my coaches, and a lot of talks with my family, definitely.”

After all was said and done, the stalwart central defender was drafted ninth overall by the Chicago Fire. A club looking to rebuild, the Fire is rich in professional soccer history, winning the MLS Cup in 1998, while winning U.S. Cups in 2000, 2003 and 2006. It is evident that they believe the Fire will be successful in replacing veterans C.J. Brown and William Conde, with a talent like Anibaba at the helm.

“It was a lot of relieved emotions, and excitement,” Anibaba said of his experience after being drafted. “I feel ready to go, and really appreciative for the opportunity.”

As he sat at his table at the Soccer & Lifestyle, signing autographs and taking pictures with his fans, he looked the antithesis of a typical professional athlete. By the look in his eyes, it was obvious that he was not letting the prospects of professional soccer go to his head. Some spectators agreed.

“I think it’s great that Davis soccer youth can come and see somebody who made it to the professional level,” said Reem Rashmawi. “We’re very proud of his accomplishments. We knew back in high school he was going to be something great in soccer.”

Let us all hope he will be able to light up a firestorm with Chicago in the MLS, in the next few years. The city of Davis will be watching.

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