Courtesy Jordan Oscar

Kovan Menr grew up like a lot of kids around the world – watching and trying to emulate Argentine professional soccer player Lionel Messi.

“I always watched him and the next day I would go to the field by myself and try to do exactly what he was doing. I think if you practice every day you will get to your dreams.”

And today – at the age of 26 years old – he is still trying to mimic Messi playing and leading the Sahara Gunners FC.

Menr is the leading scorer (8 goals) and manager of the Gunners, who are in the United Soccer Premier League (USPL) Division I Playoffs right now after finishing 8-0-2 this Spring Season, trying to become the first team of Buffalo to win and reach the national stage.

The Riverside High School grad took over the team two years ago, but his rein never really started until last summer when he took the team to Kentucky for a tournament for teams made of Iraqi players across the U.S. The Gunners won it all and the team’s success only went up from there.

Over the past year, Menr has brought together some of the area’s top soccer players including McKinley graduate and current Buffalo State star Zakaria Shaibi (4 goals), Haidar Hamed from Sweet Home (6 goals), Omran Dalil from Riverside (1 goal) and Ahamd Hassoon from I-Prep (4 goals).

“I have a lot of connections with the best soccer players in Buffalo, they are all my friends,” Menr says. “Anyone who I asked to play didn’t say ‘no’ because they’ve known me for a long time.”

A few months later, the program got another boost in a friendly against USPL Premier team, Roc City Boom.

“We literally thought we would lose 6-0 or 7-0 and then we only ended up losing 1-0,” Menr said. “They (Roc City Boom) had some really good players. We were even missing some of our better players. So that gave us the belief that we can play against teams like that.”

The Gunners, who also play in the WNY-based BDSL, wanted a bigger challenge. So, they decided to join the USPL Division I this spring.

Put in a division with teams spanning across the western half of the state to as far as Utica, the Sahara Gunners won the division and are now onto the USPL’s next round of the playoffs Tuesday.

“It’s been great,” Hamed said. “It’s great competition all over and we’ve been doing great.”

Menr is hoping to this season’s success will grow the Gunners brand. He even met with representatives for NBA star Squallie O’Neal recently about a partnership.

The Gunners will now travel to Nassau County Tuesday night to play Oyster Bay United FC, opening kickoff is 8 p.m.

“We are definitely going to fight we are not coming back to Buffalo with sadness, we are going to fight the whole 90 minutes and prove something to the community,” Menr says.

Courtesy Jordan Oscar