SANTA CLARA, Calif. — If the Canadian national team had had its druthers, Nana Attakora would have spent Saturday night preparing for a friendly in the desert heat of Qatar.
Instead, the 23-year-old got a chance to make a second first impression on the San Jose Earthquakes fan base — and it was a good one.
Returning to MLS action for the first time since Sept. 24, 2011, Attakora had a sparkling night at the center of a reshuffled Quakes defense that featured prominently in a 1-0 victory against Seattle. San Jose’s backline of Attakora, Dan Gargan, Ty Harden and Jason Hernandez helped goalkeeper Jon Busch posted his first clean sheet of the season despite having to replace three defenders lost due to injury (Steven Beitashour) or World Cup qualifiers (Víctor Bernárdez, Justin Morrow).
“I’m happy I got to do it at home,” Attakora said of his performance, which included six interceptions and 12 clearances. “I felt like I needed to prove to the people here what I’m capable of doing. I don’t think I got a chance to do that in 2011, so ... I’m happy with the way things went.”
Said Busch: “Nana was fantastic. ... He’s so solid, and he showed it tonight. His positioning was great. Anything in the box, in the air, he or Jason are getting on top of it. They were awesome.”
Certainly, this confident Attakora was a far cry from the youngster Quakes fans initially saw in July 2011, when he was acquired in a four-player trade with Toronto FC that also netted Alan Gordon for San Jose. Attakora arrived still recovering from a right quadriceps problem, but a combination of injuries and suspensions pushed him almost immediately into coach Frank Yallop’s lineup.
Attakora started and went 54 painful minutes against Real Salt Lake before tiring in the thin air of Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL, with help from a bit of simulation on the part of striker Álvaro Saborío, enjoyed a penalty kick/red card combination that opened the floodgates for a 4-0 victory. Attakora played 90 minutes the following week in a 2-0 home loss to D.C. United before mercifully being pulled from the line of fire.
The Toronto native made four more appearances in September before decamping for a year in Finland’s top flight. He returned to the Quakes in February after his club, Haka, were relegated.
“I thought he was outstanding tonight,” Yallop said. “I put him out on the field when he wasn’t ready to play [in 2011], and I think it was unfair for me to do that last time he was here. We always wanted to keep him and re-sign him. ... It’s just good to have him back, because we never wanted to lose him.”
Attakora might have been lost this week as well, but the Quakes — knowing Bernárdez was set for duty with Honduras — declined to make him available for Canada’s pair of friendlies in Doha. The Canadians, already knocked out of World Cup qualifying, lost 2-1 to Japan on Friday and face Belarus on Monday.
“It’s not that [Yallop] held me back, it just made more sense for me not to go, because if you look at the team the Canadians brought, they brought their European-[based] center backs," he said. "So they were most likely going to get played ahead of me.
“It made no sense to travel a silly amount of time just to sit on the bench. And plus, Víctor’s gone and Víctor’s such a huge part of this team. It was a chance for me to prove to everybody and myself what I can do.”