CHESTER, Pa. – Yann Ekra is only 22 years old, but he’s already traveled from the Ivory Coast to France to England to Greece to the United States.
And now, Ekra is finally hoping to plant some roots as the Philadelphia Union’s most recent signing.
“I would like to stay in one place,” Ekra said. “And I hope it’s going to be here.”
Before signing with Philly last week, Ekra’s most recent stop was with the Harrisburg City Islanders, the Union’s USL PRO affiliate, after time in Lyon’s youth system and the EPL’s Hull City reserve team.
Union manager John Hackworth said there were a handful of players he would have liked to sign from Harrisburg but that he had only one spot available after trading away backup goalkeeper Chris Konopka to Toronto for a third-round pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
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And Ekra, the Union manager said, stood out because of his versatility.
In the past two seasons with Harrisburg, the Ivory Coast native made 45 appearances and scored 10 goals, primarily as a midfielder but also as a striker. He even has experience playing at PPL Park, where he assisted on both of his team’s goals in the City Islanders’ 5-2 loss to the Union in the quarterfinals of the 2012 US Open Cup. Ekra also scored against the Union in a friendly last season.
“He was playing more as an attacking midfielder, and the times that I saw him live, he played wide in the midfield,” Hackworth said. “He’s a very versatile player. He’s making training better already.”
Ekra becomes the fourth player the Union have signed from Harrisburg, which has proven to be an important pipeline for them. Three years ago, they scooped up former City Islanders defender Sheanon Williams, who’s pretty much remained in the starting right back role for Philly ever since.
Hackworth noted that Ekra probably won’t play immediately like Williams did – but he also didn’t rule it out.
“This signing is, I think, more for the future than for an immediate need,” Hackworth said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t have a chance to play because we definitely need to change some things and find a little bit of a spark. And he certainly has given that to us in the brief time he’s been here.”
After leaving the Ivory Coast as a child, Ekra spent most of his life in France, where he played in Olympique Lyonnais’ youth system. He later played with Hull City and went on loan to Panionios GSS in Greece.
He said he came to the United States two years ago because it’s where his wife’s family is from and it’s where they want to raise their 3-year-old daughter.
“It’s the life of a footballer – when you have to go on a journey and try to ply your trade,” Hackworth said. “In particular, where he’s coming from, it’s not easy. But to his credit, he is continuing to do it and do it so well that he’s earning the next contract after the previous one is up. And that says a lot about him and his ability.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.