He is the middle child of two teachers, Kadim and Naghada, who left war-torn Iraq in the 1990s before closing their eyes in the language class in Sweden. Their children were born in Sweden and raised in Linköping, a metro area of 165,000 with a large immigrant population.
They learned Swedish and English and embraced the local culture. At home they spoke Arabic and carried on family traditions that began in the north (mother’s side) and south (father’s side) of Iraq. His parents, he said, did not like to talk about the past.
Jeahze (pronounced Ja-haz) was classmates and teammates with Syrians, Afghans and Somalis — first generations of families who fled turmoil to provide better lives for themselves and their children.
“For me, it was the perfect mix,” Jeahze said. “We met people from everywhere.”
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His soccer career blossomed and he was invited to the Swedish youth national teams. It is not unusual for players from immigrant families to represent Sweden. The most famous is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the superstar striker whose parents emigrated from Yugoslavia.
Jeahze’s Iraqi teammate Amir Al-Ammari followed a path similar to Jeahze’s, playing for Sweden’s under-19 squad before committing to Iraq, his father’s homeland.
Yahz is proud of his multicultural background and upbringing. In his heart, he said, “I feel both Swedish and Iraqi.”
“In my head, I’m from Iraq, but everything I learn is from Sweden: school, soccer, everything,” he continued. “I still see myself as Swedish. When people ask, I say that I was born here, but my parents come from Iraq.
Jeahze’s path to the Swedish senior national team took longer than he expected. Coaches told him he was close to a call-up, but after a few years, “I was close too long,” he said.
Iraqi soccer officials, aware of Jeahze’s roots, regularly reached out. In 2021, he committed to a program that, like the country, was decimated by war.
“Football is important in Sweden,” he said, “but when I play for Iraq, I see how much it means to the people.”
At the beginning of his Iraqi relationship, Yazhe thought that he had to prove himself both on the field and off the field. “It felt like maybe some of them think: ‘You’ve been lucky all your life in Sweden. Nothing will be easy for you here,'” he said. “I couldn’t do anything about it. Maybe they didn’t think I was as Iraqi as them.
Jeahze started three 2022 World Cup qualifiers and came off the bench in the fourth. Intermittently banned by FIFA from playing home games due to security concerns, Iraq hosted most qualifiers in Qatar.
“The first game [against Syria]I was really proud, but if there were fans there, it would have been better,” he said. “I thought about my family and how proud they are.”
Iraq did not qualify, finishing fourth in a six-nation group in the final round of the Asian Confederation competition. The country’s only World Cup appearance was in 1986. Represented by the under-23 team, the Olympic team was a semi-finalist at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
This winter, Iraq hosted an international tournament for the first time in more than 40 years, and won the Arab Gulf Cup for the first time since 1988.
Before joining United, he played 2½ seasons for Hammarby, who finished third in the top division in 2022. Last summer, Jeahze seemed primed for a move to Scotland (Celtic) or Turkey (Besiktas). Chat stalled. In the fall, United initiated serious pursuit.
Assistant coach Pete Shuttleworth attended Hammarby matches and reported back to Rooney and the technical staff. United paid a transfer fee of an estimated $750,000 and signed him through 2025, with a club option for 2026.
“Pete thought he fit into our system,” coach Wayne Rooney said. “He is a very good footballer on the ball, very good left foot, comfortable attacking.”
In training camp, Jeahze was roomed with Icelandic midfielder Victor Palsson, who thanks to one season with a Swedish club, speaks Swedish. To ease Jeahze’s transition, Palsson participated with him in Swedish.
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Paulson is on his second MLS tour after playing for the New York Red Bulls in 2012. Until a few weeks ago, Jeahze had never been to the United States. When asked if he introduced Yehje to something new in America, Paulson demurred, “I’m currently trying to introduce him to lettuce, because he needs to fit in.”
Rooney placed heavy emphasis on fitness. Jeahze, who in DC’s system will need to run down the left flank and join the attack, is a little behind.
“I told him he needs to work on fitness. He knows it,” Rooney said. “We’re pushing him.”
With the season opener against Toronto FC 4½ weeks away, Jeahze understands he needs to make strides. United will play four matches in the Coachella Valley Invitational, starting Wednesday against Charlotte FC (a 90-minute game) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (45 minutes).
“When DC showed interest, I thought it could be good,” Jeahze said. “I made it here. I like it here. Now I have to continue working and show the club that they made the right decision.”