In Arabic, Saeid means “happy.”
So it’s fitting that Mohammed “Mo’’ Saeid took his March 31 trade to the Colorado Rapids in stride.
In fact, some of Saeid’s former Minnesota United FC teammates actually had a harder time with his departure than he did.
“It was the first time in my life I got a friend so fast,” Danish winger Bashkim Kadrii said. “I think I was more sad than him that he left.”
The midfielder had quickly become the social epicenter of United in his about three-month stint with the Loons, joining the team from the Columbus Crew in December’s expansion draft. Saeid’s predisposition for positivity comes from his father, an Eritrean refugee from the country’s war of independence.
As the son of a refugee, a Muslim and a professional soccer player, Saeid has learned how to face adversity on and off the field with a smile.
“I believe good things will happen,” Saeid said. “I have strong faith.”
At age 15, Khalid Saeid, Mohammed Saeid’s father, fled his native Eritrea, a small country in northeast Africa on the Red Sea coast. Khalid still remembers the seemingly normal Sunday in 1975 when his own father decided it was time to leave after seeing hundreds of young people “being killed on the road” in his hometown of Agordat.
The family walked for eight days from Eritrea to Sudan.
“Eight days, there’s not food. Eight days, there’s no drinks,” Khalid Saeid said. “Eight days, we don’t know where we are going.”
Eventually, the Saeids made it to Saudi Arabia, where Khalid Saeid married in 1986. Four years later, with his wife eight months pregnant with Mohammed Saeid, the family immigrated to Sweden.
Mohammed started playing soccer at age 5, and by age 11, he earned a spot in West Bromwich Albion F.C.’s youth academy. So his family moved again to the United Kingdom to support his soccer career. He was with the club until he was 18, when the team released him and told him he “could never become a football player” because of his stature.
“I felt that my world was over,” said, Saeid, who is currently 5-7 and 141 pounds. “You go through a lot of teams and coaches saying you’re too small, you weigh too little. But it’s never about that. It’s about how good you are on the field and how much you’re willing to sacrifice.”
Saeid made good on that last point, leaving behind his parents and six younger siblings to move back to Sweden and live with his grandma in order to play professionally there. He went from not being able to pay his grandma rent as a trialist for a lower-division team to being a starter at the top level.
In 2015, he made his move to the U.S. to play for Columbus.
There, he met Kei Kamara, who now plays for the New England Revolution. Kamara said he bonded with Saeid quickly because the two share similar histories, as Kamara is a Muslim refugee himself from Sierra Leone.
Kamara saw Saeid deal with new struggles in the U.S., from accidentally putting diesel in his car instead of gas to handling uncomfortable situations with grace.
“It’s tough to go through airports with him sometimes and see him get stopped a lot of times all because of his name,” Kamara said. “But that’s something that he accepts. We joke around with it most of the time because he’s ready for it, and he’s prepared for it.”
Even during his short tenure with United, where he started and played three matches, Saeid made an impact much beyond being just a cool teammate. In fact, he even became a meme, recreating the popular Kermit the Frog drinking tea “But That’s None of My Business” image during a preseason trip to Portland, which Star Tribune photographer Elizabeth Flores captured.
United defender Joe Greenspan was Saeid’s roommate on those preseason road trips – they were nicknamed “MoJo.” Greenspan enjoyed Saeid’s lighthearted demeanor and learned a lot about Islam from watching Saeid pray five times a day.
“He’s probably one of the friendliest people I’ve met,” Greenspan said. “He’s very outgoing. He’s very lively. Welcoming to anyone. He’s a joy to be around.”
Saeid’s sudden departure was a harsh lesson in the reality of professional American sports for many of the Loons’ international players. His expected return to TCF Bank Stadium with Colorado at 5 p.m. Sunday will be a, of course, happy one.
“He was one of the guys that keeps everybody together,” Kadrii said. “I can feel that everybody misses him.”