In Atlanta, Yamil Asad is a hard-working midfielder with a knack for picking up assists. In his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Yamil is Omar’s son.
Tucked away in the southwest corner of Buenos Aires is Liniers. A barrio that sprung to life in 1872 after the advent of a train station brought jobs, and of course, soccer.
In 1940, Club Atletico de Velez Sarsfield – located in the nearby neighborhood of Villa Luro – faced relegation for the first time in its 29-year history.
A spot in the second division meant money became hard to come by, and newly relegated Velez Sarsfield was forced to look for a new home. They moved to Liniers, and built a wooden stadium that their new, ravenous fanbase called “El Fortin.” The Small Fort. Velez returned to the first division in 1943 and have been in the top flight and El Fortin ever since.
52 years after the move, and 24 years after the club's only league title, a 19-year-old from Buenos Aires named Omar Asad took the pitch at El Fortin. He would help kickstart the most successful run in club history.
“He’s a player who made his debut with Velez at 19 years old and in Argentina that’s pretty rare,” his son Yamil said. “He had a short career – only five or six years – but even in that short period of time, he won everything. He won league titles, Copa Libertadores, a club world championship and had a really successful career in that short amount of time.”
Omar, a forward nicknamed “El Turco” due to his Arabian heritage, scored 23 goals in 108 appearances for Velez from 1992-2000. An injury in 1995 slowed his career down but not before the young striker helped Velez to four Argentine Primera Division titles, one Copa Libertadores, a Copa Interamericana, a Recopa Sudamericana, a Supercopa Sudamericana and, most famously, an Intercontinental Cup.
The now defunct Intercontinental Cup was a predecessor to today’s club world cup. The top team from UEFA took on the top team from CONMEBOL in what acted as a de facto world championship. The 1994 edition featured Italian giants AC Milan and the Copa Libertadores champions (thanks to six goals from Omar), Velez Sarsfield.
The New York Times deemed the matchup “Prince vs. Pauper,” saying of the Argentine side:
“To Velez Sarsfield, all of this is new. Never before has it played to a television audience in 60 countries, nor has anyone previously offered it $300,000 just to turn up.
Playing on the biggest stage in club history, Velez didn’t flinch. In front of 60,000 fans in Tokyo, Velez took a 1-0 lead thanks to a 50th minute penalty. Seven minutes later, Omar Asad scored the biggest goal in club history.
Under minimal pressure, a Milan defender sent the ball back towards his keeper. In seemingly one motion, Asad jumped the pass, worked around the keeper, spun and lofted the ball into the side of the net from a tight angle as he fell. It’s a moment now set in ink on Yamil’s right thigh.
The goal sealed the game and Asad was named man of the match.
Yamil was born that same year, and as a kid began to show some of the same attacking prowess his father had. Yamil joined the youth system at Velez, as did Omar, who managed the youth team from 2003-09. Even as a kid, being the son of “El Turco” brought lofty expectations.
“It was difficult as a child,” Yamil said. “You would hear things from your teammates and your coaches. There was a lot of pressure.”
Despite the pressure, Yamil progressed through the Velez system – even without his father who left the youth program in 2009 – and made his first team debut in 2013 as an 18-year-old, two years earlier than his father’s debut at El Fortin.
Unlike his father, Yamil didn’t enter during a golden age for the club. After winning the 2013 league title, the club struggled to regroup and began hemorrhaging money
Yamil made 55 appearances for the first team, but expectations from fans and a struggling team convinced Yamil that he needed to leave the club. A loan move allowed him to find a new home in the American Deep South.
“Here in Atlanta or wherever else, I felt like I had to get out of Velez. The pressure was one reason, but also the club wasn’t in its best moment,” he said. “I really wanted to go somewhere new and I’m happy here in Atlanta. The fans here have been incredible and it makes it a great place to place to play”
Yamil has begun the process of carving out his own legacy in Atlanta.
The 22-year-old is second in MLS in assists with seven, and, like his dad, owns one of the most famous goals in his club’s history.
Although he’s now thousands of miles away from his famous father, Omar’s influence is apparent each time Yamil takes the field. Some fans have criticized Yamil for his emotional style of play. He just says he’s doing what his father told him to.
“I copied his will to play and how he’s always attacking his opponents and how he’s always winning the ball back. I’ve watched a lot of video on him so I do try and incorporate certain things of his into my game,” Yamil said. “My dad was emotional too. The goal that he scored in the final of the club world cup against Milan, it was a ball that he pressured and stole away from the goalie and scored. He says, ‘“the best players in the world are in Europe. They’re emotional and they pressure, and they’re really involved in the game. If they can do it, I can too.’”
Emotions and all, Yamil has been successful in Atlanta. Still, a quick google search will show that most articles available on Yamil refer to him as “el hijo de Omar Asad.” Heck, even the team website mentions it almost immediately.
Yamil has made peace with being in Omar’s shadow, though. Now, escaping it serves as motivation.
“Now I’ve kind of taken that on. I pride myself on being my own player and now we each have our own careers. It was tough in the beginning but now I think I’m used to it,” Yamil said.
At the end of the season, Yamil’s loan will end and he will return to Velez. However, there’s a chance the authorities at Atlanta United could decide to make Asad’s loan a permanent move. Yamil wouldn’t mind staying in the south.
“It’s a possibility. I would love to stay here because Atlanta’s a club that has treated me well and they’ve supported me a lot,” he said. “I think that’s what I needed.”
It makes sense for Yamil to want to stay.
In Atlanta, Omar isn’t a speedy striker with a one club legacy and a laundry list of honors. He’s Yamil’s dad.