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Canyon soccer: The understanding

It took a while, but Mohammed Roknipour and his Canyon teammates have found common ground

Posted: January 8, 2010 10:18 p.m.
Updated: January 9, 2010 4:30 a.m.
Canyon junior Mohammed Roknipour has eight goals and nine assists in the Cowboys’ seven games this season. The striker was also the kicker for the Canyon football team in 2009. Canyon junior Mohammed Roknipour has eight goals and nine assists in the Cowboys’ seven games this season. The striker was also the kicker for the Canyon football team in 2009.
Canyon junior Mohammed Roknipour has eight goals and nine assists in the Cowboys’ seven games this season. The striker was also the kicker for the Canyon football team in 2009.

Canyon striker Mohammed Roknipour likes to dream big.

It might come from the fact that he’s already been able overcome a lot just to play for the Cowboys.

All of his family except for his uncle Pirvz, his legal guardian, is still back in Iran.

“I’m sure they would all like to be here with me if they could,” he says ruefully.

But Roknipour had a special gift that brought him here.

It was evident in the schoolyards of Tehran, when he first started playing at age 6.

Three years later, he was playing with the 12-and-under Iranian national squad, and three years after that he was playing with 15-year-olds.

The tall, athletically built striker always had a powerful kick, an understanding of where he needed to be on the field and has great ball-handling skills.

The 17-year-old was forced to leave his family behind in Iran when he decided to pursue his dream of playing professional soccer with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

When that didn’t work out, Roknipour says he realized he needed to get an education and enrolled at Canyon with his uncle’s help.

The Cowboys were looking for answers during the offseason, after graduating 14 seniors from last year’s league championship team.

Canyon returned several key defenders and goalie Andrew Wilson, who was the Foothill League Player of the Year last season.

But it lost a big part of its scoring punch.

“I’m a fatalist,” says Cowboys soccer head coach Khris Savage. “He’s here for a reason. I lost a whole, entire team from last season, 14 seniors. Him coming was kind of a miracle in a way.”

But despite the needs on both sides, it wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven at first.

Roknipour was misunderstood. His outgoing personality was perceived as brash.

He has a big leg. This past season, he played for the Cowboys football team and was kicking 60-yard field goals in practice.

“When he came on the team, he wasn’t one of the team favorites,” says Canyon midfielder Jordan Markovich. “He kind of did his own thing.”

Roknipour surprised everyone at the team’s first meeting.

“The first thing we said when we all got together is, ‘We’re all going for a three-peat (this year), for our third straight winning season in a row,’” Markovich recalls. “And he said, ‘We’re not only going for a three-peat, but we’re going for a ring.’”

It was tough for Roknipour. He had played at a much faster pace for so long, he was quickly frustrated by his teammates’ calls to bring down the ball and hold possession.

He couldn’t wear his No. 7, Markovich already had that. So he took No. 77.

“I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team win,” Roknipour says.

But Savage’s defensive-minded strategy was tough for the eager-to-score striker to play in.

Savage said the term “ballhog” was thrown around after watching Roknipour in a few early summer-league games — particularly during one contest where he fired a shot from midfield while his teammates covered their faces in disgust.

He quit the team shortly after.

“At the beginning, everyone was a little scared of him. Everyone was just a little harder on him,” says teammate Sipriano Vigil. “I don’t know why. He’s just a different person and no one really got to know him.”

But Roknipour had a love for the game that brought him back.

Roknipour had a long talk with Savage, who put it to a team vote on whether to take him back.

“We had a few misunderstanding in the beginning, during summer. We got everybody together and voted on it,” Savage says.

Vigil says the vote was unanimous.

“In summer league, we were confused, there was no chemistry at all,” Markovich says. “Then we started the season, and we started growing a little bit.”

After seven games, help from a stout defense and time to work with Roknipour’s skill at finding the back of the net, the transition has gotten easier.

His new teammates are now on the same page and thinking anything is possible after the Cowboys’ undefeated start.

The only squad able to match Canyon (6-0-1) this season is El Camino Real, a team that has earned national recognition from ESPN.

Roknipour’s team-leading eight goals and his ability to get along are a big part of that success.

“After a couple of wins, we’re just like. ‘Hey this kid’s here to help us and we don’t even know him that well. Let’s hang out with this kid,’” Vigil says.

Roknipour says he’s learned to embrace the system and heaped praise upon Savage’s ability to bring the team together.

“On a lot of team’s I’ve been on, the coach is only close to one or two top players,” Roknipour says. “I feel like he’s my friend and I can go to him with a problem. We’re all like a family on this team.”

It may have been a rough road to acceptance, but looking back, the Cowboys are happy everything is working out so far.

Now when Markovich or Roknipour score a goal, the pair line up back-to-back.

“He likes to see the triple-7’s,” Markovich says with a laugh. “He kind of put the spark back in this team.”

Signal staff writer Paul Putignano contributed to this story.


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