Tetteh comes a long way from Ghana to MLS
It’s been only six years since Michael Tetteh left Ghana. Six years during which nearly everything in the Seattle Sounders rookie fullback’s life changed—including his position. When he first arrived in Southern California to attend the Dunn School on an athletic scholarship, he was a goalkeeper.
“A lot of people are surprised at that,” Tetteh told MLSsoccer.com recently. “But, actually, not to brag, I was pretty decent.”
Now 22, Tetteh has transformed into one of the best young fullbacks in the country. He starred at UC Santa Barbara for three years and then last fall signed a Generation adidas contract with Major League Soccer. He was selected by the Sounders with the 20th overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft in January.
“My vision was to play in England, but with my height we knew I probably wouldn’t make it, so we decided I’d come [here] and get a good education,” Tetteh said. “Dunn did many, many things for me, [but] I saw that the level of play wasn’t quite what I was used to. I knew my only way into college was on scholarship, so I had to start playing in the field.”
It was all a big change for Tetteh. But he was prepared for much of it after spending six years as a student at the Right to Dream Academy in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
Right to Dream, a non-profit charity founded 10 years ago by Englishman Tom Vernon, is a middle school that provides some of Ghana’s brightest young players an elite education while preparing them for a future in the sport they love.
“The number one goal of every kid that goes to Right to Dream is to become a professional player,” Tetteh said. “We have so many talented kids in Ghana, but few get the opportunities afforded by Right to Dream. They teach kids about life, not just about soccer. They teach you how to be responsible and create something for yourself, but to always remember where you come from and who you are.”
Tetteh’s class was the academy’s first “generation” of students. Of the 15 kids, three have gone on to represent the Ghanaian national team, two play in Europe, and now one, Tetteh, plays in MLS. Not bad for a bunch of kids from the neighborhood.
“We didn’t do any scouting that first year,” said Vernon, 31, who went to Ghana when he was 19 and was soon coaching at a top pro club. In his spare time, he found his calling: developing and nurturing young talent.
“There is just so much untapped talent in Africa and so many kids capable of achieving things that in the West are considered amazing,” Vernon continued.
Originally, the Academy was run out of Vernon’s house. When Vernon converted his guest bedroom into a dormitory, Tetteh had his own bed with a mattress for the first time in his life.
“Right to Dream was tough, but I’m appreciative,” Tetteh said. “We played on a dirt field. We used stones for goals. We were given one pair of cleats and told to keep them safe and to take care of them. Tom made us want to work hard to get somewhere. Everything we went through made us who we have become today.”
Tetteh, whose mother, two brothers, and two sisters are still in Ghana, has paid a price for his success: He hasn’t been home since leaving. The first thing he says he’ll do when he saves enough money, is visit his mom, who raised five children despite an abusive, alcoholic, mostly absentee father.
“I owe everything to my mom,” Tetteh said. “She was there for us no matter what. When things got difficult here, there were times I wanted to fly home for just two seconds and have that ‘mom time.’ ”
Today, with a $1 million operating budget and funding by worldwide benefactors—including trustee John Powers, chairman of real estate investment firm CB Richard Ellis—Right to Dream boasts a state-of-the-art facility in Accra. The school scours Ghana for boys with character and academic potential as well as soccer skills, trying out roughly 15,000 youngsters annually for 12 spots. Once admitted, each student is guaranteed a five-year scholarship.
[inline_node:328884]Although Tetteh played midfield in college, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid plans to use him in at left fullback. Tetteh has yet to see any action for the Sounders, but he looks set to make the bench again for this weekend’s match away to San Jose, and the coach sees great potential in his first-round draft pick.
“Every day Michael is getting better and more confident,” Schmid said. “It’s important with young players not to throw them out there too soon, but he will contribute for us before the season is over.”
And Tetteh, just as he did at Right to Dream, is studying as hard as he can to get to make the next in a long line of changes: moving from the bench to the field.
“When it comes to technique and speed, I have it,” Tetteh said. “Maturity, to know how to read the game, I’m lacking. But I’m a student of the game and mastering the tactical aspect is important.”
For more information about Right to Dream, please visit www.righttodreamusa.com.