It’s a hot and muggy summer day, but that doesn’t stop a 9-year-old boy and his friends from grabbing their baseball gear and going to the park. The park is a small island surrounded by a sea of cement with buildings encircling the small plot of nature.
As he walks up to the batter’s box, the boy eyes his challenger exactly 60 feet and 6 inches ahead of him— the pitcher. He does his usual pre-bat ritual, the same exact one as his idol, Yankees legend Derek Jeter.
He walks up to home plate and takes a deep breath. After a slight pause, here comes the pitch.
It’s a line drive to left field, the kid’s favorite spot.
Khaled Ali was born in the Bronx after his family moved to the U.S. from Palestine. The New York City borough is famous for many things, but the Yankees and baseball are near the top of that list.
Baseball, which has little to no popularity in Palestine, captured Ali’s interest early on. He would head to recess during middle school, baseball mit in hand, and go straight into focused one-on-one pitching lessons from a teacher’s assistant while his friends all played.
This was just the first glimpse into the competitive nature that has driven Charlotte FC’s first-ever eMLS player through his entire life.
“It’s all about trying to be as good as you can in everything you do. I take that mentality into a lot of things,” Ali describes himself. “Any work that I do, even outside of sports and FIFA, I try to do my very best and take pride in it.”
His journey with baseball, however, would be cut short when his parents decided to move the family to Jordan when he was 11 years old.
The grey, Art Deco style buildings of the Bronx were replaced with beige, Nabataean style buildings. The humid New York heat was replaced with the dry, arid heat of the northern Arabian Peninsula. The basketballs and baseballs of the Bronx were replaced with soccer balls.
Jordan was a completely different world compared to the Bronx Ali had known his whole life.
Ali still craved the competitiveness and fun of playing sports and so, despite having never kicked a soccer ball, he decided to give soccer a shot.
In the beginning, he was always picked last for pickup games. He would be forced to play keeper because he was brand new to the sport.
As a competitive guy, he quickly tired of this pattern. So, he decided to do something about it. He was going to work on improving his game every day and become the best player he could be.
“It was always about pushing myself,” Ali recalled. “In the summers, we’d play soccer from 4 pm until the sun went down. We’d go home, eat dinner, and then go right back out and keep playing until 12 pm or later.”
While the days in Jordan were scorching hot, the nights were cold like any traditional desert. The chill, however, didn’t have much effect on Ali and his friends as they stayed warm by playing never-ending pick-up games through the prime of night.
The next year came around and, sure enough, he went from being picked last to being picked second or third every time. Mission accomplished.
“I enjoy the competitive aspect of anything that I do. Whether it is worked related, FIFA related, whatever it is. I just like the competitiveness; that’s what drives me,” Ali said.
Today, after moving to Raleigh, North Carolina for college, where he earned his degree in biology from North Carolina State University, Ali has funneled that same competitive drive and work ethic into his gaming career.
FIFA, the popular soccer simulation game by EA Sports, introduced a ranked mode in the FIFA 17 edition called FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Champions.
It gave the best FIFA players in the world a chance to play against each other in high stakes games with big rewards on the line. This was right up Ali’s alley, and he wanted in.
With every annual installment of FIFA, Ali used his trademark competitive drive to finish higher and higher in the rankings of FUT Champions, eventually reaching the top 200 regionally during FIFA 20. At this point, he realized he had the ability to break into the elite ranks of the North American FIFA scene.
He vowed to make it happen in FIFA 21 and did just that. In FIFA 21, his first competitive season, he was ranked in the top 27 Playstation players in North America and top 13 in the United States.
In FIFA 22, for the first time in his career, the now-nationally ranked player will be representing something more than just himself as Charlotte FC’s first-ever professional eMLS player.
“Representing a club, means you’re not just playing for yourself anymore. Your success is your club’s and your region’s success as well. It’s not just personal success but success for the (Charlotte FC) family. It raises the bar for everything,” Ali said.
Even though Ali spent most of his childhood in the Bronx and then his teen years in Jordan, he has embraced the Carolinas as his home.
“To me, the Carolinas are my home. That’s why I wanted to play for Charlotte FC above anyone else,” he said. “It means a lot more to represent your home. It holds a lot more value than playing for just any Club. It’s a much deeper connection you have, and it makes winning feel that much better.”
With the impending start of the FIFA 22 competitive season, the first opportunity for Ali to represent his new Club is just around the corner. And, believe it or not, he believes that he still has plenty of extra competitive drive left in the tank.
“Playing for the Club will drive me to work harder, it will give me an extra push to be better. Being able to represent Charlotte is an extremely exciting opportunity. It’s a blessing.”