Claodio Maalouf: the man on the field

As the midfielder in blue wearing the number 23 put on a dizzying display of moves and passed the ball up the field to an open teammate, he led yet another attack for the Corsairs towards El Camino’s net. He swept wide towards the sideline and sprinted down the field to put himself in position to get the best opportunity to score. However, no luck; he retreated back to his position towards the middle of the field with a stern, disappointed look on his face, after missing an opportunity in a closely contested game. He knew those sort of chances don't come often, but he knew the next time he got his chance he'd be there again to try and convert. It only takes a few minutes to realize that Claodio Maalouf is one of the best players on the field. It was not a coincidence that Maalouf bears the same number, 23, as other sporting legends such as Michael Jordan, David Beckham and Don Mattingly. Maalouf chuckled after I asked him why he chose to wear the number while we sat on the west sideline of Santa Monica College’s field as he prepared for Monday afternoon’s practice. Arguably one of the best junior college soccer players in California, Maalouf’s rise to one of the stars of the SMC men’s soccer team is a unique and amazing journey.

Maalouf was originally born and raised in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. When he was 17, he was selected as one of five players from his city to travel to Italy for a week of intense soccer training with the legendary soccer team Juventus F.C. Upon graduating high school in Dubai, Maalouf moved to Madrid, Spain in order to train and compete with some of the best young soccer players in the world. His dream is to one day become a professional soccer player. After spending nearly a year in Spain, in 2012 Claodio moved with his family to Southern California. “My parents live in California, so I have my family here and everything,” he said while lacing up his cleats.

After a living in Santa Monica for a while, Maalouf got a call that would change his life forever. He was invited to play for Czech division one club team FK Dukla Praha in Prague. “It was like the third best team in the Czech Republic. It was like a big club there but I played for the youth, the under-21 team." While he was not under a professional contract or being paid to play, he got his first taste of high level European soccer. "They just paid for housing. It wasn’t a professional contract,” he said as he started to stretch and warm up before practice.

After playing a full season in the Czech Republic, Maalouf was given an opportunity to represent the national team for the country of his ethnic background, Lebanon. “I got the national team call,” he said. He was also chosen to play in the Lebanese FA cup for the Nejmeh Sporting Club. It only took him 23 minutes to record a goal in his first appearance. The team played their way to the tournament final only to lose by a goal.

Eventually, Maalouf found his way back to sunny California where he ended up at Santa Monica College. “It’s the best community college right? I want to graduate as soon as possible and hopefully get a Major League Soccer contract after that.”

At the moment, Maalouf has his sights set on winning a championship this year. With a strong team full of excellent athletes, hoisting a trophy is well within the realm of possibility for the Corsairs this season. “Hopefully we can win the conference. That’s our first goal and we can see from there.”

“Claodio has been a fantastic addition to our team at Santa Monica College," said SMC head coach Tim Pierce. "He’s a very dynamic, versatile player and he gives us a lot of offensive firepower.” Maalouf is making a name for himself as an agile and crafty goal scorer. However, few realize that he can play almost any position on the field. “He can play in a lot of different spots for us and is really good at creating and scoring goals for us. He's a big addition to our group,” said Pierce.

Santa Monica College is blessed to have the raw and fantastic talent of Claodio Maalouf. Whether it is playing for the Lebanese national team, in the Czech Republic or with the SMC men’s soccer team, one thing remains constant in Maalouf’s life and that is his enthusiasm and love for the game of soccer. Sometime in the near future he might end up on TV playing for a professional team or in the World Cup playing for Lebanon.