UAU coach and founder, Matar Faal, and his journey from Gambia to America.


Gambia is a relatively small country in Western Africa with a population of under 2 million. It’s known as the “Smiling Coast” due to its shape on the map and its kind, welcoming people. It’s also the home of Upper Arlington United’s founder and coach, Matar Faal.

Matar Faal was born and raised in Banjul, Gambia’s capital city. He grew up swimming in the clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean, climbing mango trees and catching fish for dinner. But most of all, he grew up surrounded by the sport of soccer. 

Faal’s journey from a kid in Gambia to an international soccer player began when he was a kid.

“My friends and I would play [soccer] with no shoes, and we would usually play in the street,” Faal said. 

Faal played for his middle school and high school teams before being scouted for the Gambia’s mens’ national team—“The Scorpion”—when he was 17. He played there for two years, before being scouted once again for Nottingham’s D2 Team 

Faal moved to America in 1994; he was reunited with his family, who had moved there prior to his arrival. He lived in the Bronx, N.Y. for about 5 years and  intermittently traveled throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He continued to play soccer for fun on the side in recreational leagues and neighborhood games.

For Faal, one of the hardest parts of moving to America was leaving behind his childhood friends, who helped him flourish and become the person he is today. “The memories I had with them are absolutely amazing,” he says. 

Yet, to him, it was worth it in order for him to achieve his dreams and live a life he’s proud of: “An amazing part [of being in America] is learning the culture and being able to have so much freedom and create many opportunities.”      

He met his wife, Tracy, in New York, and together they moved to Upper Arlington to raise their three kids Wally, Laila and Amina. 

He coached for Santos Futbol Club for 20 years until he  realized his passions did not align with theirs. Faal worked tirelessly to create his own club: Upper Arlington United.             

“When I came to America, I knew that I wanted to share my soccer skills with the younger generation. Soccer is such a beautiful sport to play,” Faal said “My dream for this club is to create long lasting memories, [make] sure every kid is having fun, but also [teach] them valuable lessons in soccer but also in life.”

UAU now has over 20 teams, almost triple the number of teams as last year.

It’s a place for kids to enjoy kicking around the ball with friends, surrounded by coaches who are passionate not only about the sport and them. It’s an environment where kids aren’t afraid to be themselves or work towards being the best they can be in various aspects of their lives.

UAU focuses on creating a “fun, friendly environment with emphasis on skills” rather than focusing entirely on creating national superstars. While these kids may not be the next Lionel Messi, they’re growing up with a true love and passion for the sport. “I’ve been coaching for a very long time and I think my favorite part about coaching the kids is seeing how quickly they develop and how they are able to learn things very quickly,” Faal said “I’ve coached many different types of players. I have coached players who have had years worth of soccer experience and end up going pro, and I have also coached kids who have had no type of experience but they are ambitious and willing to learn. Seeing their growth in soccer but also in life is one of the best feelings.” 

Matar has taught kids to not be afraid of who they are and to accept and embrace themselves, not who society has tried to force them to be. He works tirelessly to provide opportunities that he was not given as a child and hopes one day to start some sort of soccer organization in Gambia to give young kids opportunities to play soccer in America.   

“I do not have any regrets in life,” Faal said “My greatest accomplishment is being able to come to America with nothing, but being able to create something out of it.”