Kaleemullah Khan broke some barriers when he was signed by Sacramento Republic FC in 2015.
The Pakistani forward moved stateside for the first time, the first Pakistan native to play pro soccer in the United States. It was a move widely hyped at the time, the player one of the stars for his national team.
Signing in the summer of 2015, he ended up playing seven competitive games for Republic FC, making just one start in that run.
Even if his stint in Sacramento was brief, the player continues to reference his time in California on social media.
After his half-season with Republic FC, Kaleemullah moved to another USL team, the then-Tulsa Roughnecks, for the 2016 campaign. There, he scored his lone goal in the United States.
After 2016, Kaleemullah left the United States, returning for a short stint in his home country before going afield again, going to Turkey to play in the lower divisions for a while.
In 2019, he turned up in Iraq, signing for Iraqi Premier League club Al Najaf, and scoring a goal while there:
Later in 2019, he moved to another Iraqi team, Zakho, but left the country last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and “security issues.”
The team he joined up with in Pakistan, K-Electric, then went out of business. But still just 28 years old, Kaleemullah hasn’t given up his dream of playing pro, and told a Pakistani outlet in December that he’s been in talks to join a Qatari team.
Amidst this backdrop, it’s worth really driving home Kaleemullah’s against the odds story. Pakistan is not a soccer power by any means, they were suspended by FIFA a few years back and continue to push to get their house in order to resume normal operations at the FA level, and the men’s national team ranks 200th in the world as of last year. Pakistan’s big rival, India, is no powerhouse itself, but for context, its FIFA ranking is 104th, to give you some context.
So it was a risk for Kaleemullah to leave the Asian continent and test his mettle in new locations in the world and he should be commended for trying his luck. Far from being an import who had superior youth training to the Americans still trying to figure out what approach works best to produce elite men’s players, Kaleemullah’s soccer background was not as developed, and he’s bounced around a bit since coming to Sacramento for a few reasons, including trying to find his level as a player in the pro game.
I’m not sure if we’ll see him in the United States again, but who knows what the future will bring for Kaleemullah.
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