Kwame Awuah came to us from North of the Wall, and carries a tremendous responsibility with him. The Toronto-born fullback and midfielder, selected sixteenth overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Connecticut, figures to be the only rookie available for selection when NYCFC kicks off this weekend while heralded teen Jonathan Lewis remains away with the United States Under-20 National Team.
That’s no small amount of pressure on a 21 year old kid following in the footsteps of talented New York City draftees like Jack Harrison, who shined from the jump, and Khiry Shelton, who began to make The Leap in his second year. With just a couple of preseason games to his credit — including an assist on Sean Okoli’s goal against Emelec down in Guayaquil — we’re still getting a grip on who Kwame Awuah is and what he might mean to Patrick Vieira’s team in 2017.
In our quest to get a proper lowdown on this budding talent, we spoke with John Deeley, an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut men’s soccer program. Deeley has watched Awuah since his youth academy days in Toronto, and was able to provide valuable insight in the run up to Sunday’s NYCFC season opener.
“My initial impression of Kwame when I first saw him play for Sigma FC was that he played a lot bigger than he looked,” Deeley told Hudson River Blue via email. “He had no trouble mixing it up with bigger guys, and that was a good sign considering how physical the college game can be.”
Don’t think the NYCFC brass didn’t notice— even for experienced professionals, the ability to adjust to the physicality of MLS is never a given. Suffice to say that if the 5’7” Awuah has the same bite to him as, say, the utterly fearless Mikey Lopez, he’ll endear himself to the fans in due time.
So, where should we expect this versatile talent to line up?
“My guess is that Kwame has the best chance to solidify himself in the left back position. He is quite capable of playing multiple positions. as he did for us, but I think his most effective position is as an attacking left back,” Deeley said.
“Kwame has the qualities to play as a holding midfielder, in that he is very quick in getting around the field and can also quickly link up with the attack. As an outside back, he is explosive getting forward and can also distribute well building out of the back, and from a playing style standpoint should fit in well with what Coach Viera is looking for. I'm sure that was one of the qualities that appealed to Coach in choosing him.”
That last detail will come as welcome news to a New York City fanbase still skeptical about the ability of the current squad to find consistent success in Patrick Vieira’s system. In these days of ‘build from the back, defend from the front,’ Awuah has every chance to carve out a niche in the rotation in the coming years. But we ought to be careful with our expectations for this kid, especially considering NYCFC’s penchant for leaking head-scratching goals.
Says Deeley: “The areas that Kwame needs to make improvement in are mostly defensive. In college, he spent most of his time as an attacking player, so he needs to refocus on the defensive aspects of the game, including defensive heading and 1-vs.-1 defending.”
We cannot ignore the fact, sure. But can we really hold this against Awuah given how many members of the New York City roster really cannot defend in 1-vs.-1 situations with competence? A learning curve is certainly to be expected. Luckily, with first-choice starter Ronald Matarrita holding it down at left back, plus RJ Allen and Rodney Wallace on call to cover the position in a pinch, NYCFC doesn’t need Awuah to form himself into a world-beater right out of the gate. He has the luxury of being able to bring himself along at a more deliberate pace; with that in mind, we’ll most likely be able to judge him simply for his work ethic and attitude. Deeley told us what to expect in that regard.
“I would describe Kwame as a calm and confident player on the field. As a first-year player, I'm sure he will defer to the experienced players but he will not be afraid to express his own personality on the field,” he said.
“Off the field, Kwame is an outgoing type who is a soccer junkie, but made sure he kept his promise to his folks by finishing his college degree. He showed a lot of maturity in taking care of that business.”
The portrait of Kwame Awuah is far from finished, but all signs point the the idea that this is a kid with drive, ability, and a head that’s screwed on straight. In the big picture, it shows that a Connecticut Huskies program that has produced such notable talent — Orlando City forward and fellow Canadian Cyle Larin looms largest among them — has backed Awuah for a strong showing in Major League Soccer.
“Kwame was instrumental in some big wins, especially in his freshman and junior seasons when we had NCAA tournament success,” Deeley said. “But also his being drafted and now signed by NYCFC means that Kwame, and also Jake Nerwinski [of the Vancouver Whitecaps], are carrying on the success of UConn alumni going on to the MLS.”
“It means a great deal to the reputation of the program.”
And in so many ways, it makes the signing of Kwame Awuah a great deal for New York City FC for 2017 and beyond.
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Special thanks to John Deeley for answering our questions, and to Kevin Mellon for arranging the connection. Cheers, boys.