On Jan. 13, Jalil Anibaba went to sleep at his parents’ home in Davis. He was enjoying the last few days of his offseason vacation before he would have to report for training camp as a member of the Chicago Fire of MLS.
On Jan. 14, Anibaba awoke as the newest member of the Seattle Sounders FC.
Though the trade wouldn’t become official for another day, he began to prepare for a new life in the Emerald City while informing family members and loved ones of Chicago’s decision.
“I’m tremendously excited about the next challenge at hand and that’s moving on and playing in Seattle and playing for a big club and a very well recognized brand,” Anibaba told The Enterprise in a phone interview. “It’s a special thing to play for a franchise like that. I’m looking forward to proving myself there.”
The 2007 Davis High graduate may be understating Seattle’s influence in the league when he uses phrases like “big club” and “recognized brand.”
The Sounders, who share CenturyLink Field with the Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks, average over 44,000 fans per game, more than England’s Chelsea FC or Italy’s AC Milan.
They employ world superstars such as United States captain Clint Dempsey and former Nigerian World Cup star Obafemi Martins.
Their owners include Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft; Joe Roth, a Hollywood film producer and lawyer; and comedian Drew Carey.
They are the closest thing Major League Soccer has to a SuperClub.
Family man first, soccer player second
But, instead of playing for the most recognizable club in the league, what does Anibaba talk about when asked about the move? His family and working hard.
“It feels really good to be coming back and inching myself closer to home,” the athletic defender said. “I’ll be closer to (my) family. But the thing about family is that it doesn’t matter where you are, they’ll be beside you no matter what.”
Those family members include his older brother Jammil, with whom he lived with for his entire three-year MLS career in Chicago.
“I’m really just looking forward to (Jalil’s move),” said Jammil, who is going to stay in Chicago to finish up college at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I loved this experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Jammil described their relationship as a reciprocal one that has helped them both grow.
“At times I’m his harshest critic,” Jammil told The Enterprise in 2012. “If he’s lucky on game days, I’ll make him breakfast — depending on his performance in the week prior.”
While Jammil helped improve Jalil with his soccer skills, Jalil, who studied economics at North Carolina, would help Jammil with his schoolwork so he can achieve his dream of becoming a history teacher.
Jammil found out about that trade when he heard his phone blowing up while he was taking a shower.
He thought that Jalil, who was on the other side of the United States, needed him to take care of something around the house.
“I wasn’t surprised, but I was shocked,” the elder Anibaba said. “Once it kind of settled in, what was going to happen to him, I was thankful to God mostly. I know more than any other person how hard Jalil has worked to succeed at the professional level. I’m just proud and thankful that he’s being rewarded for all the hard work that he’s put in.”
Playing for a legend
One of the perks of joining a big club is that they’re usually run by great coaches, and Seattle is no exception.
Like many coaches in this country, Sounders mentor Sigi Schmid lists UCLA legend John Wooden as one of his biggest influences.
Unlike many coaches in this country, Schmid learned first-hand from Wooden as Schmid would wander into the UCLA basketball practices and just take everything in while he was a star midfielder for the Bruins soccer team.
This obsession with coaching led Schmid to become a UCLA assistant, then their head coach early in the 1980s when he won three NCAA titles.
Schmid then went on to win MLS Cups with the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Columbus Crew before ultimately becoming Seattle’s first, and thus far only, coach.
“He’s a manager that players wish and hope that they get a chance to play for in their career,” Jalil Anibaba said. “One of the most exciting things about (joining Seattle) is to play for Sigi and to learn from him and to fight for a spot.
“Sigi is a very integral part of my excitement, for sure.”
Competition for playing time
For the first time in his MLS career, Jalil Anibaba won’t be a sure-fire starter entering the regular season like he was each year for the aptly named Fire.
His competition for a starting role in Seattle includes UEFA Champions League winner Djimi Traoré, two-time MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall and second-year sensation DeAndre Yedlin.
This competition, and the high caliber of attacking players Seattle employs, drive Anibaba to be the best he can.
“The best thing about players like them is that they’re never comfortable or complacent so they’re always looking to achieve on the highest level,” Anibaba said. “There’s no sign of them stopping. There’s no sign of me stopping. There’s no sign of anyone in the Sounders’ organization stopping.”
And even if Anibaba doesn’t see the field right away like he did in his 96 appearances with the Fire, he knows what it takes to prove himself.
“It’s about taking things day-by-day and working hard and earning everyone’s trust and earning everyone’s respect,” said the 2007 California Gatorade High School Player of the Year. “It’s just about working hard and earning every ounce of what’s around the corner.”
Presumably, Anibaba already has the respect of the organization; in order to acquire the former Blue Devil standout, the Sounders sent Patrick Ianni and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, two starting-caliber defenders, to Chicago.
Note: Seattle’s training camp opens Saturday in Tukwila, Wash., before the team heads to Tucson four days later. In Arizona, the Sounders will take on the San Jose Earthquakes and El Macero’s Adam Jahn on Feb. 5. Seattle makes its only regular-season appearance in Northern California on Aug. 2, when it meets the Earthquakes at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
— Reach Evan Ream at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam.