If you hear of a moose in Georgia, you would most likely be confused as to why a cold-loving animal stumbled down South. But around the WoodPEC field during Emory men’s soccer practice, “Mous” is the affectionate nickname for senior midfielder Moustafa Khattab whose signature goal celebration involves putting his hands on his head like his namesake’s antlers.
Khattab is one of few collegiate soccer players who can list Professional Development League (PDL) experience on their resume, a key stepping stone on the way to Major League Soccer (MLS).
He enters his final year on the Emory men’s soccer team with impressive titles and a transformative summer experience. Named to the All-American Athletic Association First Team and the United Soccer Coaches South Atlantic All-Region Second Team in 2017, Khattab has averaged roughly one goal or assist every other game as an Eagle to date. Most recently, Khattab had the opportunity to play with the Seattle Sounders U-23 team over the summer.
Although Khattab was born in Toronto, Canada, he credits his Egyptian heritage as the main reason he chose to stick with soccer. He also cites Egypt and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah’s efforts to get Egypt to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as a major inspiration.
“I’ve … played soccer my whole life,” Khattab said. “A big part of [why that is] is my dad — he played before. Both of my parents are Egyptian. It’s a big part of Egyptian culture.”
But Khattab says the unique style of play in Europe is one of his main influences. In high school, he was recruited for trial experiences with A.S. Roma and Pescara in Italy.
“I’ve always prided myself on being a very technical player, and being exposed to that environment was really important,” he said. “The speed of play is quicker; it is a lot of one-touch, two-touch.”
Khattab also said the squad depth was noticeably deeper in Europe than in Canada or the U.S.
“At every club, everyone is good, and that makes such a big difference in training because everyone can play and the level is higher,” he said. “[At Emory], there is not a ton of depth.”
Despite his desire to play in Europe, Khattab found himself on the roster for the Seattle Sounders U-23 team this summer.
Currently pursuing a degree in business administration, Khattab seized the opportunity to gain more soccer experience while interning at Bank of America and Merrill Lynch in Seattle. He sent his soccer resume with his career highlights to U-23 Sounders Head Coach Darren Sawatzky, who told him he did not need a trial to be accepted onto the team. Instead, Sawatzky told him that he would have to earn playing time.
When he learned of his acceptance to the team, Khattab said he felt the true value of his training and hard work coming to fruition.
“It felt good,” he said. “Putting on the badge, putting on the jersey, it was a great source of pride. It felt like a good combination of all of the hard work and sacrifices that I have had to make.”
While playing with the Sounders, Khattab said he noticed a difference in expectations and intensity overall.
“It was the first time that I was playing in a professional environment,” Khattab said. “At [Emory], I did not have to worry [about receiving playing time], but [with the Sounders] I always had to worry and I was always competing to try to play. Everyone had the highest expectation[s].”
Khattab’s Emory teammate and sophomore forward Nate Sampson cited Khattab’s versatility in attack and his creativity as his stand-out qualities.
“He is a really special attacking minded player,” Sampson said. “Not only is he able to create shots, make opportunities out of nothing, but he creates for other players as well.”
But Sampson said that Khattab’s talent is not his only contribution to the team — he also boosts team morale.
“He always brings positive energy to the team,” he said. “He is all about unity and bringing the team together. Everyone looks up to Mous.”
Additionally, Sampson admires Khattab’s work ethic and commitment to soccer, referencing the effort Khattab puts in outside Emory practices.
“He would encourage me to stay before and after every practice, and we would work out every day [in the spring] for a couple of hours,” he said. “Most guys aren’t doing that, but then he would stay and run several miles after, and play another hour or two. Any accolades he gets, he more than deserves it.”
Despite getting limited playing time with the Sounders this summer, Khattab said he learned to accept and improve from criticism.
“I learned that I definitely had the talent and skill to play, but I also learned that I had to improve my concentration and defensive game,” Khattab said. “That was definitely my biggest weakness. My coach told me, ‘No doubt, you have the skill, but you need keep working on your fitness and your defense.’ ”
Khattab admitted he did not have many defensive responsibilities as an offensive player for the Eagles, but more defensive effort was expected as a Sounder.
Despite the increased challenges on the professional pitch, Khattab said his summer experience only augmented his commitment to playing soccer after Emory. After graduation, he plans to take six months off to look for a soccer contract.
The Sounders U-23 team has already invited Khattab back for next summer. However, Khattab’s sights are set even higher — he plans to aim for the S2 team and eventually, the first team. He hopes to get a trial with his hometown club Toronto FC, as well.
Additionally, Khattab said he remains hopeful of getting a call up to the Canadian national team. Khattab is skeptical about the United States and Canada’s chances of winning the 2020 FIFA World Cup, but the recent increase in soccer’s popularity in North America impressed him.
“There is no way [that the U.S. or Canada can win the World Cup] at least for another 20 years,” Khattab said. “I think both teams are on the right track. I think the sport is growing a lot, popularity in the MLS has gone up a ton.”
When asked about the possibility of playing in Europe, Khattab admitted he would prefer a European club over the MLS.
“The [playing] level is higher,” he said. “Everyone’s dream is to play in Europe.”
However, Khattab mentioned that an MLS move might be more practical, adding that he would enjoy playing professional soccer in his home country.
“Mous” plans to end his final season as an Emory Eagle on a high note. After Khattab scored the 11th game-winning goal of his career in a memorable 5-4 victory against Washington and Lee University (Va.), winning the Sonny Carter Invitational title and the MVP award on Sept. 1, the signs are pointing to another successful season.
CORRECTION (9/8/18 at 12:03 a.m.): In a previous version of this article, the first photo photo was improperly credited. The article has been updated to reflect that the photo is courtesy of Robert Bunn Photography.