Joshua Yaro unfurled his new scarf with a smile.
He is a new player with the Philadelphia Union soccer team in Major League Soccer (MLS). Yesterday he was a college student from Ghana at Georgetown University.
The team chose him second in Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft to play for the Philadelphia Union team.
That is a long way from home.
“Growing up, it was always a dream to play professionally. But where exactly, I had no idea. This day has been a day I have worked for my whole life. And yeah it’s a fun day.”
Yaro grew up in Kumasi, Ghana and then moved to Accra as a 12-year-old to play soccer with the Right to Dream Academy for two years. He earned a spot at the academy because of his playing skill and became a team captain.
Right to Dream is designed to give African soccer prospects the chance to attend school, learn soccer and travel to international tournaments so they can be seen by coaches around the world.
There are Right to Dream graduates playing soccer around the world as professionals, university students and high school students. Some of them are playing in the best leagues in the world in England, France and the Netherlands.
Yaro moved to California to attend a high school near Santa Barbara. Host families helped him understand America and acclimate to life in the United States.
Yaro knew English before he moved to the U.S., but one thing he worried about was saying the wrong thing in conversations or being misunderstood. He says he is still learning American English and customs now.
“Culturally, things are different. And the way that people dress, the way people act and the way people talk and all that. It’s different. And just learning to adapt to the culture, and the way of life here in order not to offend people or fit in was tough. It took me a while to figure all those things out. But it happened. And I’m still learning. But it’s not as hard as it was when I first got here.”
He played so well at his high school that Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., scouted him and offered him a soccer scholarship.
Yaro spent three years on the team at Georgetown, while attending school. He studied international relations, government and anthropology.
While he was there, the team won 44 of 55 games and was one of the best college teams in the United States.
Yaro is a central defender, and he was named the best defensive player in the Big East Conference last season. He is expected to play center back for Philadelphia.
In soccer, the center back is responsible for leading his team’s defense and preventing the opposition from getting easy scoring chances.
Sometimes, center backs are physically imposing. But Yaro makes up for what he lacks in size with good soccer instincts and speed. He is about 1.8 meters tall, [5 feet, 11 inches] and weighs 72 kilograms [or 163 pounds].
His coach at Georgetown, Brian Wiese, says Yaro always played his best when the rest of the team struggled.
“We had a playoff game this year, and we had a playoff game the year before where we were struggling as a team in the match at times and that’s when he really rose up and was accounted for. And if you’re sitting there watching, you’re saying – well, he’s a special player. If he’s not the best player in the country, I don’t know who is...”
During the lead-up to the draft, many people thought Yaro would be the first player chosen. Instead, the Chicago Fire chose Jack Harrison from England, who attended Wake Forest University.
Then, the Philadelphia Union chose Yaro.
Yaro says he is not worried about not being the first player picked.
“It doesn't matter where you end up. You're going to start from scratch when you get to pre-season,” he says. “It didn't really matter number one, number two, number three, number 20. You're still going to be on the team and have to work your way up.”
In a surprise, the next player picked, also by Philadelphia, was Yaro’s Georgetown teammate, Keegan Rosenberry.
The team starts its season with a preseason match in Florida on February 6 and then opens the regular season in Dallas a month later.
Steven Goff is the soccer writer for the Washington Post.
He says he thinks Yaro will be able to make an impact on MLS as a first-year player.
“He’s a terrific athlete. And I think that gives him an advantage. He knows the game so well, he reads the game so well. So I would imagine he will probably be a starter in this league right away.”
Yaro says he is looking forward to the chance to start his new career and prove himself for his new team.
But he took time to reflect on how he got from Ghana to one of the most important days of his life.
“It has been a long road, and it has been a tough one. But I’m grateful for everything that happened and all the things that have happened to make me what I am today. Coming from Ghana, to Santa Barbara and Georgetown and now here and to Philly, it’s been a really great road and it’s been a really fun one. And a learning experience. And something that’s helped build me up as a person. It hasn’t been easy. But at last, I can look back and say it was worth it.”
Yaro says he wants to help people understand Africa better during his playing career, and to work in diplomacy afterward. Since he is now a professional athlete, Yaro will put his studies on hold temporarily. But he should be able to finish his degree while starting his professional career. Goff says his salary will be close to $200,000 per year, based on similar players in past drafts.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Words in This Story
professionally - adj. related to a job that requires special training, education or skill
prospects - n. someone or something that is likely to be chosen or successful
acclimated – v. to adjust or adapt to a new climate, place, or situation
athlete – n. a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength
preseason – n. a period of time before the regular season when players train and people or teams play against each other in unofficial games
terrific – adj. extremely good
scouted – v. to watch or look at (someone or something) in order to decide if that person or thing is suited for a particular job or purpose
unfurl – v. to open something up
scholarship – n. an amount of money that is given by a school, an organization, etc., to a student to help pay for the student's education