When Kwadwo Opoku entered the game early in the second half for Los Angeles Football Club on Wednesday in their Concacaf Champions League clash against Cruz Azul, it was perhaps a bit surprising.
Signed in early October to his first professional deal, he’d played just under 100 minutes for LAFC to date, the 19-year-old yet to score a goal as he got his feet under him in the pro game.
And then, he hit his first goal, one that writes his name into LAFC lore, to beat Cruz Azul and keep the black-and-gold CCL dream alive as they advanced to the semifinals.
“Everybody’s really excited for Mahala,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley told reporters in the postgame press conference. “He’s a young player who has established himself in the group, he’s really well liked. He’s a player that has earned respect with the way he trains and with just having a positive personality. And so everybody inside the locker room was excited for him to get his first goal and make it a game winner and get us into the semifinals against Club América.”
Opoku, who goes by the name “Mahala,” hails from Ghana and was spotted by LAFC at the Attram de Visser academy. Bradley explained the youngster’s emergence is the latest step in the club’s quest to look for top young talent all over the world.
“I think that we continue to try to do the best job we can finding young talent. We’ve done a really good job finding some top players from South America, I think our academy’s producing players, but we’ve worked to establish some contacts in Africa, [academy founders] Pete de Visser and Godwin Attram. It’s a small academy. I had an incredible time a year ago in December, I was down there for five or six days, seeing what they were doing, seeing all these boys, the smiles when they step on the field, how much they love the game.”
Opoku didn’t talk to reporters after the game, and in his interactions with reporters so far, he’s been a man of few words, although his enthusiasm is apparent.
But while time will tell how the rest of Opoku’s career, with LAFC and in general, will progress, Bradley’s experience with the sport in Africa informed his interest in looking for youngsters to bring to the club.
“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had incredible experiences in the game in Africa, obviously the World Cup in South Africa,” Bradley said. “But then when I was in Egypt, some of the games, the travel in different countries, seeing what the game looks like in all these places, seeing the kids whose eyes light up when they’re around football. I have such respect for for Pete and Godwin and I loved being there with them seeing the boys. And through that Mahala was a boy that we talked about, and we were able to get him to LAFC, I told you earlier that he’s got a great personality so he’s really well liked for just what he brings every single day. One of the most important things when we look for players is you want players who love to play, players who love the game. You want to create training every day so that guys show up and man, they’re excited about what’s going on in training and they want to get better. And that’s been the way Mahala has handled it since the day he arrived.”
It’s just the beginning for Opoku, but his timely strike Wednesday won’t be forgotten by the LAFC faithful.
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