LOS ANGELES—Mere hours before Mohamed Salah scored his 30th goal of the English Premier League season, a looping header at Anfield to put Liverpool up 2-0 against Bournemouth, his longtime teammate and friend Omar Gaber made his LAFC and MLS debut, trotting onto the pitch as a substitute at BC Place in the final minutes of his team’s 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I was so happy,” Gaber said, grinning ear-to-ear. “It was my first game, of course, and we won the game away, so it was a great feeling.”
Indeed, both LAFC and Liverpool picked up victories last weekend. While Salah — or the “Egyptian Messi” as some are calling him across the pond —is leading not just England but all the major European leagues in scoring, Gaber is thrilled to merely be injury-free and available for selection this weekend at Montreal (Saturday, 1 pm ET | TV & streaming info).
“Everyone on the team is doing our best in training,” the wingback said. “[Who starts] is the decision of Mr. Bob [Bradley] and the staff.”
The expansion side’s coach goes back a long way with both Salah and Gaber.
The year was 2011, several months before the Port Said Stadium disaster that claimed the lives of over 70 people, and the newly-hired American manager had just taken over the Egyptian national team’s head coaching position. Gaber and Salah, then both only 19 years old, moved up to the senior side after their days together in their country’s youth squads.
“Mr. Bob Bradley was the first coach who chose us to play in the first team,” Gaber said following LAFC’s Wednesday training at Banc of California Stadium. “Before that we were playing in the youth national team together.”
The careers of both Egyptians had been intertwined at the national level through the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics in London, where Gaber came on for Salah during their quarterfinal loss to Japan at Old Trafford.
“For sure, he’s a great player,” Gaber said when asked about his high-scoring countryman. “But maybe for most people who know him as a person, know he’s a great person as well, he’s so humble, he’s so kind, I like him so much. He’s my brother.”
More recently, the old friends were on the team sheet for Egypt’s narrow 2-1 loss in last year’s African Cup of Nations final against Cameroon, as well as last month’s 1-0 friendly loss to Greece.
Gaber hopes his recent return to fitness will increase the chances he could join Salah on the game’s biggest stage this summer.
“If anyone represents his national team, it’s a point of pride,” Gaber said. “I will fight in the training and the next games to be with the national team in Russia.”
The same crop of players — which also included Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny — Bradley shepherded to a heartbreaking near-miss for 2014 World Cup qualification, came into maturity during the 2018 qualification cycle. In October 2017, a full six years after the American first coached Gaber, Salah and Elneny, the Pharaohs finally qualified for the country’s first World Cup since before any of them were born (1990).
“For the Egyptian people it’s a great feeling that we qualified after 28 years,” added Gaber. “I hope I will be with them.”
Considering Salah’s form and the fact that Egypt is paired with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay in Group A, advancing into the knockout rounds for the first time in nation’s history might well be realistic.
“[Salah] is on fire now,” Gaber said. “I hope that he will continue like this and will be the best player in the world.”