Ghana's No. 1

FEATURE: Ghanaian youngster Joshua Yaro revealed

Published on: 09 December 2014

First, Joshua Yaro wants to win an NCAA soccer championship with Georgetown. Next, he plans to earn degrees in both government and anthropology, which would make his education-focused mother, Esther, very happy.

Later, he intends to go home to Ghana and help run the country because, he says, many of the best and brightest have left and not returned, creating a leadership void.

Wedged into that ambitious blueprint is a pro soccer career, one that could begin as soon as Jan. 15 when MLS conducts the annual draft. If the buzz around the league is genuine, expansion Orlando City would select Yaro with the No. 1 overall pick.

It’s a tangled timetable, though.

Yaro, a central defender with grace and maturity uncommon in the college game, is only a sophomore. And as much as he consumes soccer, he also enjoys enriching his brain and setting the foundation for his long-term goals.

“I definitely want to have a soccer career, but I don’t know when that is going to be,” he said ahead of the NCAA quarterfinal between the eighth-seeded Hoyas and No. 16 Virginia on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Georgetown’s Shaw Field. “As of now, I am getting to do what I love most, and college gives me the best of both worlds. I get to play at a high level and I get a great education. That is what I have always wanted.”

For months, the consensus in soccer circles, both college and pro, was that academic priorities would win out for now. This week, though, he said he has not ruled out leaving early and that he would weigh all options after the season, whether that end comes this weekend against the Cavaliers or next weekend at the College Cup in Cary, N.C.

Orlando’s technical staff has scouted him multiple times and MLS, which signs college players for the draft, is undoubtedly preparing an, which specializes in the college and youth game, lists Yaro as the top MLS prospect.

“He wants to be a pro and he also wants his degree,” Hoyas Coach Brian Wiese said. “These are two things very important to him. The chatter of being potentially the number one pick, he thinks it’s nice but he says, ‘Is it realistic to get my degree?’ He always comes back to that.

“He’s not just taking a major to get through college. He’s taking a major because he has big plans.”

Yaro has lived in the United States for a little more than four years, starting at prep school in Southern California, but his heart remains in Ghana, the west African nation with an abundance of soccer resources and, in his opinion, insufficient institutional services, such as health care.

“A lot of bright people are leaving for the U.S. and the U.K. I want to give back,” said Yaro, who is on the Dean’s List with a 3.6 grade-point average. “It’s something I really value. Imagine if all the Ghanaians outside the country go back with the knowledge that they have, it will be a much better country.

“People sit back and complain and blame the government for not doing more, but the people who can do the job are leaving. How do you expect those people running it to do it? They might have some ideas but might not be the experts. The best way to influence my country is to work in the government and be in a position to help people.”

Yaro is savvy enough to understand an athlete’s name would carry weight later in life.

“If you played soccer, people will know you, and what you say will go a long way,” said Yaro, who was on the radar of Ghana’s under-17 program but has never played for his country. “It’s an advantage I am happy to use, who I am and what I have, to influence the lives of others.”

Yaro’s influence came from his parents, retired school teachers who also worked on the election commission and helped shape the education system. They raised four children in Kumasi, a city of 2 million in south-central Ghana. Joshua is the youngest. His siblings, two brothers and a sister, are college graduates and work in the private sector.

His mother tried to steer him from soccer, fearing it would interfere with school. But over time, Yaro proved he was adept at both. He played for a neighborhood club before earning a spot in the Right to Dream Academy, a residence program mixing academics and athletics. A few months short of his 12th birthday and with his parents’ blessing, he moved close to the capital, Accra, 160 miles from home.

Right to Dream won African championships and competed in tournaments in Europe. Some players turn pro. Many others land in prep schools. Ghana World Cup forward Abdul Majeed Waris, Yaro’s older friend, studied in England before signing a contract; he is now with Turkish club Trabzonspor. In the Big East, he has encountered former teammates playing at Marquette and Villanova after attending East Coast prep schools.

Yaro was placed at Cate School, near Santa Barbara, Calif., and lived with host families. He arrived as a sophomore and caught the attention of college scouts through his play with the Santa Barbara Soccer Club.

Georgetown did not think it had a chance to get him. Yaro wanted to stay on the West Coast, and besides, he had never heard of Georgetown. “I had to google it,” he said, laughing. Stanford, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and North Carolina topped his list.

“We would send him emails without response and then suddenly it was, ‘Yeah, coach, I think I am going to come to your camp’ ” before Yaro’s senior season, Wiese said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that could be something.’ ”

It turned into a commitment. With an eye on a career in diplomacy, Yaro was sold on Georgetown’s international relations program. Soccer at Georgetown does not have the history of the other schools he was considering, but the Hoyas did advance to the NCAA championship game in 2012.

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