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DC United vs Columbus Crew dubbed ‘the battle of Ghanaians’


When Columbus Crew SC travel to the nation’s capital to take on DC United at the RFK Stadium on Saturday evening in the third week fixture of the 2017 Major League Soccer (MLS), the matchup will be the 65th all-time clash between the two Eastern Conference teams.

With just a point apiece after two games, both sides enter the game with a mission to steal their first three points of the season. But there is a whole new twist to the rivalry.

There will be a huge representation of Ghanaian players at the RFK Stadium as both sides boast of a number of Ghanaian players. But for the suspension of Crew SC defender Jonathan Mensah, this tie would have seen an unprecedented number of Ghanaians in a single MLS game.

However, defenders Harrison Afful and Lalas Abubakar and midfielder Mohammed Abu are all potentials for Crew SC. DC United will also rely heavily on Ghanaian trio Patrick Nyarko, Kofi Opare, and Lloyd Sam.

This means that with excerption of Crew SC defender Jonathan Mensah (suspended) and DC United’s young defender Chris Odoi-Atsem (an American with Ghanaian background) Saturday’s tie could see three Ghanaians at both sides battling for supremacy.

DC United wingers Nyarko and Sam could not hide their delight in a short chat with Ghana Soccer US (www.ghsoccerus.net).

For Nyarko, the whole scenario is “crazy”! He was happy “the Ghanaian market in MLS is booming”.

Sam was thrilled to see a lot of Ghanaians in the MLS and was looking forward to Saturday’s game that could parade six Ghanaians.

In unison, Nyarko and Sam predicted a victory for DC United.

In a preview, the official website of MLS, www.mlssoccer.com gave a brief profile of these six Ghanaians who are likely to play varied roles for these two clubs come Saturday and what sort of impact they can make on the game.

Patrick Nyarko, who played college soccer at Virginia Tech, is fifth among active players in fouls suffered, a telling statistic for someone who is a constant outlet on the wing and beats defenders one-v-one.

Lloyd Sam, who was born in the UK but plays for the country of his parent’s birth, played for Charlton Athletic and Leeds United (among other teams) before making the switch to MLS in 2012. A talented dribbler with 20+ goals and assists, Sam made his international debut for Ghana at RFK Stadium on October 13, 2015.

Kofi Opare was acquired by DC United in 2014 from the Los Angeles Galaxy and was one of two players on the roster to score in the CONCACAF Champions League, Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and league play in 2015. He was named to the MLS Team of the Week for his performance against Sporting KC on May 27 last season.

For Columbus, the most tenured Ghanaian is Harrison Afful, a speedy right back who has been with Crew SC since 2015. The 30-year-old has been a part of the Black Stars’ roster for multiple Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and played in the 2014 World Cup. Mensah, who received a red card over the weekend for his tackle against the Houston Dynamo, most recently played for Russian side FC Anzhi Makhachkala and became Crew SC’s second current Designated Player this offseason.

Gregg Berhalter, the sporting director and head coach for Columbus, also acquired rookie Abubakar in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Dayton and midfielder Abu from Swedish club Strømsgodset. Abu had previously played for clubs in France’s Ligue 1 and Spain’s La Liga.

Mensah, 26, an accomplished central defender who started in matches in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for Ghana, has started both matches so far this season but will miss the matchup after getting a red card in the 87th minute against the Houston Dynamo last week. Raitala, 28, is an outside back that has made over 30 appearances for the Finnish national team, including 10 in 2016. Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter will hope that the moves will be enough to fix what was a leaky defense and point of weakness for the team in 2016.
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