By Dylan Butler
His supporting cast rivals the population of a small country with about 50 families bearing the last name Mashriqi living within walking distance of his Flushing home.
But on Monday, soccer prodigy Mohammed Mashriqi left them all behind.
All the aunts.
All the uncles.
All the cousins, including the 11 or so who are classmates at Flushing High School.
He boarded a plane bound for Paris with his father, Tahir, in what may be a career-defining moment for the talented 15-year-old midfielder known simply as ‘Mo’ to his teammates.
Mashriqi is training with the Under-17 team of prestigious club Paris St. Germain, simply known as PSG around the world.
For those who don’t know — and I’m sure there are many — PSG is one of the top clubs in France’s First Division, and features, among others, Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho.
After four days of training, Mashriqi will play with the club in a tournament in Holland over the weekend. The first game is against Scotland powerhouse Celtic, one of the most recognizable soccer names in the world.
A good performance could mean a permanent spot on the club next season. A spot on the First Division side and the realization of his dream of playing professional soccer may not be too far behind.
“I’m prepared,” Mashriqi said of the possibility of leaving everything and everyone behind to play soccer in France. “It’s another language, a different culture. I have a lot of cousins here; I’m going to miss everybody. It’s difficult.”
Should Mashriqi play professionally in France, or elsewhere in Europe, he will be playing at the highest level of soccer.
No offense to Major League Soccer, which has made great strides recently, but there is really no comparison to competing in Europe, where the level of play is consistently better, as is the weekly paycheck.
MLS rookies pocket only $24,000.
Manchester United superstar David Beckham netted about $26.75 million — $11.77 million in salary and $14.98 million in endorsements.
Where would you rather play?
Just ask Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller, American goalkeepers in the English Premier League. Or Claudio Reyna or Jovan Kirovski, members of the U.S. National team who also play in the Premiership.
“If you play over in Europe, it’s easier to play here on the national team,” Mohammed Mashriqi said. “The MLS is a good level also, but I want to see how the top level is first.”
His soccer lineage started with his father, a former member of the Afghanistan national team. But when communists took control of his country during the 10-year Afghanistan War, soccer took a back seat to survival for Tahir and his wife, Safora, and their son Sabir and daughter, Sabira, who were 5 and 3 at the time.
“After three months they took a lot of people and one of them was my father. He was a principal at one of the high schools,” Tahir Mashriqi said of his father, who was killed. “My cousin, he disappeared. My mother and my sister and my brother, they were all injured from bombarding at that time.”
Tahir took his family and fled to Pakistan. They reached the U.S. Embassy, and in 1985 they were safely in the United States.
Tahir has not returned to his country since.
“We were ready for any kind of condition because we didn’t like it over there. We didn’t like the government; we didn’t like the situation,” said Tahir, a teacher’s assistant at MS 74 in Bayside. “It was very bad conditions. Every day we would think we were going to die.”
Tahir Mashriqi still struggles to talk about the horrors in his homeland. But mention his son Mohammed and his accomplishments on the soccer field and Tahir’s eyes immediately light up.
Mohammed Mashriqi was a member of the U.S. Under-14 national team, and it was during the training camp to select that team that he drew the attention of European scouts, including one with a connection to PSG.
A member of famed club Blau-Weiss Gotschee, one of the oldest and most respected club teams around, Mashriqi was in Barcelona last month with a select group of Olympic Development Players from several Northeast states to play in a U-16 tournament. The team made it to the finals and lost to the Brazilian national team, 1-0.
But this week, Mohammed Mashriqi is making his biggest step in soccer. It’s not quite as big a step as his family made when they fled Afghanistan, but the hopes for a brighter future are the same.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.