ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — He wasn’t the biggest name in the offseason, but its hard to argue few have made a bigger impact in their first season in Major League Soccer than Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
Those 10 goals, including four game-winners, have remarkably come on just 29 shots, which highlights a stunning efficiency.
Find out more about Tajouri-Shradi’s journey, both on and off the field.
Growing to love New York City
Before arriving at NYCFC, Tajouri-Shradi had never come to New York City before. His only idea of the Big Apple came from the movies.
And coming from Vienna, a much smaller city with a slower vibe, it took some getting used to.
“Of course, it’s not crazy like in the movies, but it’s 90 percent the same,” Tajouri-Shradi told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a big city, a little stressed city, so many people. Vienna is not like here because there’s many people in the city. When I go into the city for the first time I go a little crazy because of so many people, but now I am happy about that.”
In a multi-cultural city with cuisines from all corners of the earth, Tajouri-Shradi, though, is still in search of a good Libyan restaurant.
“I don’t find any Libyan food,” he said. “But I’m sure there’s some Libyan food somewhere because there’s every food is what you want, every shop is what you want. I will find where is the Libyan food.”
“Football crazy” family
The 24-year-old is the third youngest of seven siblings. His father, a diplomat who worked in the Libyan embassy, played when he was younger in Libya and his older brother was also in the Austria Wien academy before eventually hanging up his cleats to become a pilot.
The family is more spread out now, with his father moving to Belgrade in Serbia to work in the embassy there and other siblings living in Egypt and Libya. But soccer unites them all.
“I love football, but all of my family loves football,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “My brother played also, but he was not a professional so he broke from football and concentrated on other things. He’s now a pilot so he went another way, which is also nice. My father played also in Libya. I think all of the family is football crazy.”
The family evaluation
After each game, Tajouri-Shradi said it is the same. He speaks with his father, among others in his family, to get their breakdown of his latest performance.
He said despite the time difference, his family are dedicated NYCFC viewers.
“They watch every game. We speak after every game.,” he said. “I call my father, my mother, my brother and they tell me what was good, what was not so good. It’s normal. If I score, if I don’t score, it’s the same things.”
And what was the reaction after the win over Toronto FC?
“[My father] liked the goal and liked that we took the three points,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “He was very happy. I think he was much happier than me. Of course, I was very happy, but all of the family was very happy. I get so many messages from all of my family. I am happy that I have a family like that.”
Favorite NYCFC goal?
Tajouri-Shradi secured all three road points against Toronto FC with a sensational left-footed screamer from outside the box two minutes from full time. It didn’t win the AT&T Goal of the Week for Week 24, but where does it rank among the goals he’s scored to this point in MLS?
“I have no favorite,” he said, sounding like a proud parent. “If I can say against Toronto that goal for me was amazing, one of my favorite goals of course.”
He also singled out his first MLS goal, which came in his first start to cap a 2-0 win over Orlando City FC at Yankee Stadium on March 17. Tajouri-Shradi intercepted a poor Joe Bendik clearance attempt, took two touches to set up a shot on his right foot and scored a low shot to break the stalemate.
Favorite all-time goal?
Tajouri-Shradi was less diplomatic when discussing his favorite all-time goals. He chose two, both for different reasons. The first came when he was playing for SCR Altach while on loan from Austria Wien — an Olimpico against Austria Wien. His other favorite was a shot from “30-35 yards” against Sturm Graz.
‘Pelezinho’ was his idol
Growing up in Bern, Switzerland and in Vienna, Tajouri-Shradi fell in love with soccer at a young age. And like so many young players, he had a favorite player. Perhaps not surprising, it was another player with an attacking flair.
That player was Robinho, especially when he came up through the ranks at Santos in Brazil and during his time at Real Madrid, when he wore the No. 10 jersey and was the club’s third-highest scorer behind Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
“I liked how he played, what he did with the ball was amazing,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “He’s my No. 1 favorite player.”
Tajouri-Shradi is well traveled because of his father’s job in the Libyan embassy. But while he was born in Switzerland and lived most of his life in Austria — he has an Austrian passport — he identifies as Libyan.
“My blood is Libyan,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “Of course I don’t live so long in Libya, but my family comes from Libya. I can say I am from Libya.”
To this point, he’s made just one appearance for Libya, on the U-20 level in a friendly against Morocco in 2012.
In fact, after scoring in his first start, Tajouri-Shradi raced down to the visitors' locker room at Yankee Stadium to exchange jerseys with Mohamed El-Munir, the Lions Libyan-born defender. El-Munir signed with Orlando one week before Tajouri-Shradi joined NYCFC.
“I know him before,” Tajouri-Shradi said after the game. “We exchange the jersey, we take a little picture. It’s great that two new Libyan guys are playing in MLS.”
Advice from a rival
When Tajouri-Shradi was about to make the move to a new league and a new city, he sought out advice from someone in the know — a former player at Austria Wien and now adversary with the New York Red Bulls.
“Before I come here, I know Danny Royer because he played on the same team as me and I asked him about New York, I asked him also about MLS. He gave me some good information. It was good from him. I think it was a good choice.”
Impressing one boss to the next
Tajouri-Shradi enjoyed a meteoric start to his NYCFC career, scoring four goals in his first four starts after coming off the bench late in the club’s first two games.
It was the perfect first impression for then-NYCFC boss Patrick Vieira.
“He’s making a name for himself because he’s working hard,” Vieira said. “Every time he has a chance, he’s really composed and he’s really calm in front of the goal. With the left foot, when he hits the target, nine times out of 10 he will score the goal.”
And what does current NYCFC coach Dome Torrent think of Tajouri-Shradi?
“He plays really well the last three or four games, not just against Toronto,” Torrent said. “In Toronto, he was able to score two goals, much better for our team and for him. I’m very happy especially with him because he improved the last three games a lot. For me, he’s a player for us, he can play left side, right side … He plays very well on both sides. That is the reason I’m very happy with him right now.”
He does his talking on the field
Tajouri-Shradi is soft-spoken and it took him awhile to find his place in the NYCFC locker room. Even now, as an established player, he is quiet and humble, often deflecting personal praise for the betterment of the team.
But with the ball at his feet, whether in a game or on the training ground, Tajouri-Shradi speaks brashly with his magical left foot and unabated work ethic.
“He’s a special player, and I’ve said it since Day One, he’s a special attacking talent,” NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “It’s not often you come across a player not only with his talent, but his mentality is just relentless. It’s just go, go, go and nothing fazes him. I’m glad he’s on our side.”