Pa-Modou Kah Praying 2

North Texas SC head coach Pa-Modou Kah is a practicing Muslim. He is proud of his heritage, religion, and the individual he has become through his personal beliefs. Born in The Gambia, West Africa, Kah embraces his rich cultural ties to the game while being a voice for the Islamic and minority community.

As a practicing Muslim, Kah celebrates Ramadan in April. At this time, the Islam faithful devote themselves to God for 29 to 30 days. In a very intimate conversation with MLS NEXT Pro, Kah shared some insights about his devotion to Ramadan.

“Ramadan is one of the five pillars in Islam. It’s the holy month where we give ourselves and devote ourselves to God and make sure that we can understand what it is not to have food or drinks for some time period of the day.” Kah said. “It’s just us getting closer to God, as well as making sure that you can cleanse your body, because for 11 months, you’re allowed to eat and drink as much as you want, but now he’s asking for a month where you just devote yourself to him.”

Ramadan draws many similarities to the Christian celebration of Lent. Christian practitioners choose to give up a privilege for 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. However, Ramadan differs in some ways, as Muslims pray five times a day, fast from food and drink, and refrain from physical intimacy from dawn to sunset.

“We pray five times a day, every single day, and in Ramadan, you know, you fast for 12, 13 or 14 hours, and then you eat and then you get to spend a couple hours with the family, which is always beautiful,” Kah told us. “And then after a month, obviously, it comes to an end where we go to the mosque to pray and then we’ll have a little bit of celebration, more like a little bit of a Christmas to put it in a way for people to understand. We don’t unwrap gifts but we do bring plenty of food to the table and bring the families around and make sure that we sacrifice a lamb or goat – at least that’s the way you do back in Africa – now you cannot do it here obviously so we go find a Halal shop where we can buy ready-made meat and we make it.”

Pa-Modou Kah Praying 3

For Kah, having the ability to practice his religion while being accepted by the North Texas SC environment has been an ever-important part of his daily routine. He has created a schedule to accommodate the team, the staff, and himself. Through this time of religious practice, Kah has also shared with his players and staff how he celebrates Ramadan while teaching those around him about the Islamic sacred pillar.

“It is the first time that I’m doing it during the season as a coach. As a player I was used to it, but as a coach, it’s good because I always wake up early. So I wake up early, eat, then work a little bit on the computer… look at videos, look at films, go back to sleep and then wake up and watch the team eat, sit with the team, be around the team because I’m fine, there’s no temptation for me or feeling like I need to either do something,” Kah noted. “Just being around the team to make sure that I’m part of them as well and then get ready for the game, and then when the game is on, you don’t think much of that you’re in Ramadan right? So you just enjoy the game and you enjoy what’s happening.”

For Coach Pa, Ramadan is a time that he looks forward to every year, as it feels like an awakening for the soul and the mind. Through this awakening, life feels more clear, and as a coach, Kah believes that it will help bring about the best in him to lead his North Texas SC side.

You know it’s kind of getting into a state of mind where, me personally, I feel like my thoughts are even more clear, you know and things that we want to achieve and things that I want to achieve for the group.Pa-Modou Kah

Pa-Modou Kah Praying 1

By sharing his story, values, and personal beliefs with the North Texas SC community and, Kah hopes that little by little, people start to understand the importance of this holy time for the Muslim community. Kah believes that the Islamic religion and Ramadan have underlying stigmas about them. Those stigmas could fade by continually talking about it, informing people of what it is, and slowly sharing his story.

“So I mean it’s definitely a nice month you know because it’s a test for yourself because you’re always around people and people are used to seeing you eat or offer you something and then all of a sudden they forget... “OH! you’re in Ramadan! “which is always funny because then they kind of feel guilty. I’m like, No, you don’t need to feel guilty. Because obviously you do kind of forget everything, which is human nature, but I mean it is it is a beautiful month for me to to practice my religion and also talk to people about it because I think the more we are open about it and people are understanding why we do it, the stigma of certain things about Islam can be can be done differently.”

Coach Pa feels like he has finally found a home in the FC Dallas system, but the work is just beginning.

“Honestly, I am in one of the greatest organizations in MLS and that is true with the history of it. They are one of the founding fathers of this league and for me to be part of this organization is fantastic but as well as this is an organization that allows you to be who you are. And for me those things are very important. I don’t need to be somebody else because of an image people want to create. I am who I am and to be able to do that and showcase my side of not only as a coach but also as a human being and my religion. I truly appreciate it.”

Forging a path: embracing cultural identity and valuing diverse voices in the MLS NEXT Pro community

Kah’s journey has seen him venture worldwide as a footballer. Along with a storied playing career in six different countries, he’s consistently seen a trend that’s bothered him: A lack of diversity in the front office and head coaching positions in football.

“If you look at the history of minorities in the game, it’s like they’re just known to be players, right? And after they’re done playing, there’s no other job for them, because they may not necessarily have that relationship that other players or that white colleagues had because of the narrative and the perspective that was also created for those players. So they (the other players) could walk into a front office job or be a head coach, which… for me, I could never understand it because I think if a player, if you like a player and he is showing his capability of being a player, what will stop him also from being a player who could take roles in the front office or be a head coach given that this is a global game? Because if you think about it, football and soccer itself don’t see no color. It’s 32 panels and you add the leather and then millions are playing around the world… millions, Right?”

Following stints with the Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Cincinnati, Kah was handed his first head coaching position with Pacific FC in the Canadian Premier league in 2020 and in 2021, he was named the CPL coach of the year for his efforts in leading his side to a 2021 Canadian Premier League Final championship.

In January 2022, Kah was named the head coach of North Texas SC. He now has a focus on helping develop a storied footballing culture in the FC Dallas Organization. A founding member of Major League Soccer in 1996, FC Dallas has rich cultural roots in the American game and has been a leading organization in developing young talent and integrating them into the professional game.

Following the conclusion of his playing career, coaching as a full-time job consistently sat in the back of his mind as his final years on the pitch wrapped up. However, the looming question of acceptance and opportunity lingered over his head. He compared himself and his situation to other footballers of color whose storied careers saw them leave the game after retirement.

The questions of “why” and “how” were ever-present, as was the thought process that by becoming a coach, maybe Kah would be forging a path for future footballers of color to make their way onto the touchline or into a front office after they leave the pitch.

“I had it in the back of my head, coming at the end of my career, that I wanted to be in coaching for several reasons. Obviously, looking around and seeing that there have not been many minorities of coaches, I also wanted to go in and create a pathway, so there could be people that could see that we can also make a difference not only as players but as leaders as well in those leadership roles because I think that is very important,” Kah explained. “If we look around in sport in general, there’s not many minorities that are either in the front office or in the coaches. So, for me that was one of the reasons… as well as paying back to football for all the years that it has given me.”

Being a role model for young footballers worldwide has been a long-term goal for Kah, who sees the world through a global footballing lens. A view of diverse cultures, different backgrounds, and unique players who each bring something different to the pitch. For Coach Pa, connecting with those cultures, embracing each person’s personal background, and creating a sense of community are critical to his identity as a coach.

According to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau, Dallas, TX, is home to over 1.3 million people. Of that, 42.3 percent are persons of color. Dallas is a diverse region with a heavy Latin-American influence due to its proximity to the Mexican border. The Black community has a significant presence in the city of its own. For Kah, finding the communities that make up those diverse parts of the city, embracing their cultures and bringing young footballers into the FC Dallas system is integral to his coaching philosophy.

"I think that given also the proximity of where Dallas is with the border to Mexico and having a lot of Latin influence as well as Black and Brown influence in the communities where football – you could play it all year long – the sun is shining and you know… it's a beautiful thing to have."

"Well, it starts with the owners, the vision that they have, but also the coaches that have paved the way. Oscar Pareja (Former FC Dallas head coach, current Orlando City head coach) was a driving force on that together with Marco Ferruzzi (Director of Methodology at FC Dallas) and Chris Hayden (VP of Youth Soccer). I think those three paved the way in making sure that the talents were growing together with the ownership group. I think Dan Hunt (Owner of FC Dallas) played a very big part of it because they want to see Homegrown players develop and hopefully make the first team. And I think that given also the proximity of where Dallas is with the border to Mexico and having a lot of Latin influence as well as Black and Brown influence in the communities where football – you could play it all year long – the sun is shining and you know… it's a beautiful thing to have."

It may begin with the owners, but for Coach Pa and his coaching staff, who have come together from all over the world, creating a safe, accepting and unique footballing environment is what they envision.

"I think it's very important because that shows also the diversity that we have especially within our group where my assistant is also from India and we have a Brazilian, we have someone from El Salvador and we have a Mexican so we have a very diverse group, oh and a Colombian. So we all share our cultures and we bring it together and for me those things is very important because football is a global sport and we are all part of it and all we want is for people to enjoy it. That's why also the MLS NEXT Pro is a very important place to showcase the different cultures but also the diversity the league that the MLS NEXT Pro has."

With a 25 percent diversity rate among head coaches, MLS NEXT Pro presents an opportunity for diverse voices to be ever-present on the league's touchline. A pathway from the MLS NEXT program to the first teams, the league is the stepping-stone for academy graduates striving for first-team contracts.

Kah believes that MLS NEXT Pro could be the most influential stage for young footballers worldwide. For players of color and players from different cultural backgrounds, Kah feels that the MLS NEXT Pro opportunity will help create a successful pathway for them. It could eventually lead to first-team football on the world stage. However, it's not just the footballers who will be given a platform. Coaches, staff members, and front office personnel, Kah believes that MLS NEXT Pro presents an ever-growing opportunity for diverse voices of the footballing community.

"The game itself don't see no color but our society sees color, right? If you want to make a difference… I always say this: racism is the biggest pandemic in the world. Because all of us, we share the same vision. You and I are sitting here talking about a global game. We're not sitting here talking about the colors… we're talking about a global game because we want to see what we could achieve together as people. So what MLS NEXT Pro is doing is massive, it's huge, it's showing to the world that, listen, we are doing is something that the rest of the world hasn't caught up to yet, which is allowing and opening doors for the next future generation of minority coaches."

With 21 teams competing in the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season, eight more MLS-affiliated sides are expected to join the league in 2023, creating even more opportunities.

Coach Pa embraces being a minority coach and is proud of his cultural background, Muslim heritage, and voice as a speaker for minority coaches worldwide. However, problems still exist. From forced hiring processes to continual dismissal of candidates of color in hiring opportunities, Kah feels that change is needed. Still, there are positives to take along the way as we see growth, little by little.

"Not putting just a rule – sometimes they put a rule just to check boxes, but to actually do it and say "here, we're doing it."

"Not putting just a rule – sometimes they put a rule just to check boxes, but to actually do it and say "here, we're doing it," because sometimes you have the rules where they say you need to have a certain amount of people interviewing for a job or doing this. For me, it's like okay, there's another checkbox to tick. You're not doing it because you truly believe that that person can actually make a difference," Kah confirmed. "Because being a minority coach, you also have some advantages that maybe other coaches don't have, such as maybe for me, to know how to speak to a minority player, because I can get to understand him better. Because we may have similarities in our background or understanding where we are at our stages of our life so that you can guide and help them… so for me those things are very important. So when we start to see leadership roles in the front office and on the pitch, I think also that creates different dynamics and cultures, which is very important because that is also important in the game."

Finding those voices, creating the culture, and having representation are simple things that Kah is asking for. Through the MLS NEXT Pro pathway program, Coach Pa feels like he has found a firm starting ground to build upon.

"I do believe that with that target on our back of developing, we still gotta keep pushing the boundaries. We still gotta keep challenging each other and I think we do, and with me being the head coach of North Texas, you know, it's the bridge which is very good to have with MLS NEXT Pro because I think a lot of people kind of forget that being Academy players and taking the step directly to first team is a huge one. So to see the story of Pepi (Ricardo Pepi) where he goes to the academy, goes through North Texas, from North Texas to the first team and now he's in Europe. So I think that pathway that the crop created, it's fantastic." 

The pathway is an opportunity for young male footballers of all backgrounds worldwide to compete at a high-intensity level above the academy level. With an average age of 20.08 years across the league, MLS NEXT Pro is home to talented youth looking to break into the highest level of the professional game.

Embracing the shootouts: a learning opportunity

In its own way, MLS NEXT Pro is unlike any other league globally because of its shootouts. The contest occurs if a match ends in a draw after the regulation 90 minutes plus stoppage time. Kah feels that the difference between this league and others lies in teaching these young players learning opportunities.

"I think there's a lesson to be taught for the younger players and for the younger generation also, in terms of when they're playing the game. And not only be satisfied thinking it's only a tie, but what is the thought process and what is the teaching that you want to teach? So I think when you look at it, in hindsight, there's a great lesson in there, but also it teaches people also to deal with the pressure a little bit because you can see that obviously that it means something and it really meant something for guys, which is also knowing that we took the first two points in the history of FC Dallas – that's never happened before in the game of football where where you get two points, so hah, two is always better than one, right? I think it's brave from MLS NEXT Pro to do it. And I think for sure there's a lot of teams or leagues that might be looking at this and go, you know what, maybe we should try it."

Pa-Modou Kah is embracing tradition, breaking barriers, and becoming a voice for minority footballers and coaches worldwide as his head coaching journey in MLS NEXT Pro begins. Along with the North Texas SC community and the FC Dallas organization, Coach Pa is ready to tackle any remaining obstacles ahead of him.