CARSON, Calif. – Every player who will be taken in Friday’s MLS SuperDraft has been working toward a professional career for the better part of their young lives.
Not many of the prospects, however, have had as long of a journey as Abu Danladi.
A near lock to go in the top three and a strong candidate to be selected first overall on Friday, Danladi was a member of the Right to Dream Academy in his native Ghana, a program that helps place elite soccer players in universities and private high schools in the US and UK.
The 21-year-old Generation adidas signing left Ghana in 2011 at the age of 16, leaving everyone and everything he knew behind to pursue educational and athletic opportunities in the States. Through Right to Dream, Danladi landed at Dunn School, a small prep academy in Los Olivos, California, roughly two hours north of Los Angeles.
After winning the 2013-14 Gatorade National Boys Player of the Year award at Dunn, Danladi moved south to UCLA. Though he struggled at times with injuries, Danladi quickly impressed with the Bruins, helping them to the College Cup final in 2014 and reportedly earning Generation adidas interest after his freshman and sophomore seasons before deciding to turn pro after the end of his junior season last fall.
A quick forward capable of playing centrally or on the wing, Danladi racked up 18 goals and 18 assists in just 42 games in his three seasons with UCLA. Several MLS teams expressed concern about his injuries and training habits early in the Combine, but, according to several clubs, he interviewed very well over the last week, generating some buzz that he could go No. 1 on Friday.
As for his injuries, Danladi isn’t too concerned that any health issues will move with him to the pros.
“I’ll take it as the coaches understand that the college season is just three months and about 30 games and it’s just very compressed,” he said after the final Combine matches on Thursday. “I’m the type of player who runs a lot in a game and most of my injuries are very preventable. I feel that being in a professional environment [will help], because the season’s longer and you have more time to recover after games. So I think to me, I think if they make the decision based on that, I think that’s their choice, but I think being in a professional environment, it shouldn’t be a problem for me at all.”
Danladi won’t be the only Right to Dream graduate in MLS when he’s drafted on Friday – he’ll join Philadelphia Union center back Joshua Yaro, the second overall pick in last year’s SuperDraft, and LA Galaxy winger Ema Boateng in the league. Both Yaro and Boateng moved from Right to Dream to the Cate School, a boarding school roughly 30 minutes from Dunn School, within a year of Danladi coming to the US.
Danladi, who said he interviewed with 13 or 14 teams at the Combine, said he spoke with Boateng this week about the transition to MLS. He doesn’t have much of a sense for where he’ll go in Friday’s draft, but knows the moment he hears his name called – the moment he’s been working toward since he left Ghana nearly six years ago will be special for him and his family, who will be following the draft from Ghana.
“Yesterday it really hit me that on Friday, God willing, I’m going to know where I’m going, probably not going to be living in LA anymore,” he said. “It’s going to be crazy, but thinking about it, it’s going to be fun. I came from Ghana to the United States, it was the same type of journey, just another step towards where I want to be in the future. I think it’s great. I feel like I’ve made my mom and my brothers back home proud, my community as well, and I think it’ll be great.”