VANCOUVER, B.C. – With midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker's availability for this weekend's match against the Houston Dynamo up in the air following an off-field accident which has left him possibly concussed, the Vancouver Whitecaps could be turning to Gershon Koffie to fill the void.
The 22-year-old Ghanaian, a constant presence for the 'Caps since their inaugural MLS campaign in 2011 (appearing in 84 of 102 regular-season games, starting 77), has found himself on the outside looking in to begin the season. He saw his first action of the campaign last weekend, playing 20 minutes as a substitute in a scoreless draw with the New England Revolution. Now he's hoping to get back into the starting lineup and stick there.
“It's a good, good experience for me,” Koffie told MLSsoccer.com following Tuesday's training session at the University of British Columbia of the challenge before him. “Because it's my first time not playing the first two games of the season, and it's experience … so I have to learn.”
With his strong tackling ability, Koffie is suited to playing as one of the two holding midfielders in coach Carl Robinson's 4-2-3-1, but so far it's been the pairing of Reo-Coker and newcomer Matias Laba which has won the battle for those spots. To Koffie's credit, however, he's been keeping his head down and waiting for his opportunity – one he's sure will come.
“It's a dream of every soccer player to be in the starting 11,” Koffie said. “But when you're not in the starting 11, you have to keep positive. Whatever you think must be positive. You have to keep your head up, because the opportunity might come any time.”
As a 19-year-old, Koffie was a bright spot in Vancouver's dire 2011 first season in MLS. He was combative in midfield, comfortable in possession and at times showed a strong range of passing.
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Those attributes, as well as his obvious natural athleticism, continued to develop in 2012. But the player struggled at times in 2013, especially as the club began a nosedive in midseason that ultimately cost them a playoff spot. At one point, then-head coach Martin Rennie left him out of the starting lineup for six consecutive matches in June and the first week of July – but Robinson has told Koffie to hop back in the time machine and find the form and potential that made him one of the league's top young players.
“[Robinson] spoke to me about how he wants to see the Gershon that he saw the first time he came here,” Koffie said. “I'm looking forward to Saturday … I don't know yet [if I'm starting], but whatever [the role] is, I'm still part of the family, and I'm willing to help my friends.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.