VANCOUVER, B.C. – It had been a tough start to the season for Gershon Koffie. The vaunted young midfielder didn't see the pitch in the Whitecaps' first two games of the year, eventually coming on for his 2014 debut as a sub in the team's draw at New England on March 22.
Such a situation is always a test of a player's resolve, but an off-the-field injury to Nigel Reo-Coker saw Koffie's hard work in training pay off and the 22-year-old got the start at home vs. Houston on March 29. He hasn't relinquished that place in the starting lineup since, picking up his share of plaudits along the way.
"The thing I worked most on is my mental toughness," Koffie told MLSsoccer.com at training on Tuesday. "You have to be patient. Patience is the key and when your chance comes you just take it. For me, I'm just glad to be in the team."
After receiving a lot of praise in his first two seasons in MLS, Koffie had an up-and-down season in 2013, flitting in and out of the starting eleven, eventually starting 21 games out of the 26 he played in.
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson has worked hard with the midfielder these past few months and has been pleased with the end product of late.
"The last two games he's shown what he's capable of doing," Robinson told reporters. "I've had every faith in Gershon. He's had to be patient for his start and his chance. At the start of the season he wasn't in the team but he's grabbed his chance at the moment."
Koffie's work on his mental toughness has been aided by Robinson's desire to instill more self belief into his young squad. The Ghanaian may now be in his fourth season in MLS, but it is easy to forget that he is still just in the formative years of his game.
"He wants me to keep my mind free," Koffie said of Robinson's advice. "I should go for balls and not worry about losing balls. He gave me more confidence to go for the ball and not be scared. He's been helping me a lot."
Robinson knows a thing or two about that defensive midfield role that Koffie has lined up in, having played it himself during his 17-year career in England and North America.
- Get more Vancouver Whitecaps news at WhitecapsFC.com
"He's better than me. He's stronger than me," Robinson quipped on Tuesday.
The former Welsh international also knows what it takes to play that position at the top level and while he says that Koffie has the ability to see that through, it was the inability to put it all together during a string of games that cost Koffie his regular starting spot last season.
"Sometimes I think he plays within himself and the real Gershon Koffie is waiting to burst out from that," said Robinson. "If you watch training, you see it now and again and then he goes into a lazy mode. I don't want him to be lazy any day or at any game, because if he's not and he performs to his levels, he's one of the best midfielders in the league. He really is.
"But he's got to be consistent. Players in the league, the successful ones, are consistent, like the Kyle Beckermans, like the [Osvaldo] Alonsos, like the Matías Labas, they are consistent. Gershon's had a run of games when he's been consistent, but he has to continue that."