By Anna Schaeffer
Rabat – When Driss Senhaji moved from Casablanca to New York as a young adult, he carried his love for football, American “soccer,” all the way to the US. Today, his Moroccan-American daughter Ranya carries the torch onwards as the #2 best forward for her age group in the entire state of New Jersey.
Sixteen years old with eight championships under her belt already, Ranya finished out the last season with 23 goals. She started playing at four years old with a dedicated, football-loving coach: her father.
“Because my dad came from Morocco, he loves soccer,” she said. “I started really young, but I still train with him today, and he knows more than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s cool to have him there always teaching me and explaining what goes on in games.”
Driss has played football his whole life and continues to train with his daughter. Combination coach and cheerleader, he, along with his wife, attends every one of Ranya’s games.
“When we juggle together and try to keep the ball in the air, every time I kick it to him he does this fancy stuff with his feet that always makes me laugh,” Ranya said, describing one of her favorite ways to spend time with her dad.
The family visits Morocco regularly, especially Driss’ hometown in Casablanca. Ranya reflected on the beauty of the kingdom and the importance of her ethnic background, a part of her identity that includes her Arabic name.
“My friend group is mostly American without different backgrounds, and it’s really special to be from somewhere else and have [a Moroccan] background.”
That identity may have something to do with her love for Moroccan football; a huge fan of both the men and women’s national teams, Ranya cheered on the Atlas Lions in the 2018 FIFA World Cup during their valiant performance.
Her favorite player for the Moroccan national team, midfielder Nabil Dirar, is from Casablanca just like Driss. But Ranya’s all-time favorite footballer plays for Manchester City: Sergio Agüero.
Like Agüero, Ranya has always played forward, and she loves scoring. Although her life revolves around school and football, playing the beautiful game serves as a source of joy.
“My love for soccer is really, really high,” she said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it.”
Although she just completed her second year of high school, Ranya is committed to play on the women’s soccer team at the University of South Carolina, the number three football university in the United States.
“I would love to play professionally, overseas, maybe,” she said. “I could even see myself playing for the Moroccan national team, but my favorite club team is Man City in England. Playing soccer in America is something that I want to pursue elsewhere.”
A collection of goals scored by Ranya:
All photos and video courtesy of Driss Senhaji and Cathy Levin