CHESTER, Pa. – Joshua Yaro’s mother never really wanted him to play soccer.
A retired educator, she had dreams of her youngest of four becoming a doctor. And even after Yaro was drafted by the Philadelphia Union with the second pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, she couldn’t wait for him to get his college degree from Georgetown – which Yaro plans on doing as soon as possible despite having left school during his junior year to turn pro.
“That was her No. 1 priority – to see me graduate from college,” Yaro told MLSsoccer.com after the Union's training session on Wednesday. “She’d always say, ‘Don’t be the only person in my family not to graduate from college.’ I thought that was going to be an important moment for her to come see me graduate.”
The Union rookie center back paused, adding with a tear in his eye, “But unfortunately that’s not going to be able to happen.”
Yaro’s mother, Esther, passed away suddenly two months ago, back home in their native Ghana. She was 62.
“It’s tough for me,” Yaro said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over it because of the role she played in my life. All I can say is to thank her for everything she’s done for me and getting me as far as I have in life.”
Yaro first heard from his three siblings that their mother was in the hospital two days before the Union’s international friendly vs. Crystal Palace on July 13. But she quickly reassured him that she was fine and would be discharged the next day.
However when Yaro couldn’t get ahold of her, or any of his siblings, the next day, he had a horrible feeling something was wrong. And later that day, he got the tragic news from his brother-in-law that his mother had passed away. He still isn’t sure the exact cause of death.
He’s been trying to focus on the the good times he shared with her instead, all while leaning on his coaches and teammates for support during such a trying time.
“When it happened, I told the coaching staff and they were really supportive,” Yaro said. “What they said is family comes first and I should take the time I need. … But being here in practice and being with the guys and going about my daily routine helps me in a lot of ways.”
Yaro opted not to tell head coach Jim Curtin about his mother’s death until after he got the start in the Crystal Palace friendly because, he said, “it was important for me to stay strong because I have a job.” And it wasn’t until he missed Philadelphia's game vs. the Chicago Fire on Sept. 3, to return to his native Ghana for a memorial service, that the news was made public and he was flooded with condolences from Union fans.
Following the memorial, Yaro returned to the club last week, starting and playing the full 90 minutes in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw vs. the Montreal Impact. And he’ll do his best to focus on soccer over the final five games of the regular season as he looks to help the Union secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2011.
But not having his mother to talk to on the phone – as he did almost every day – is going to be really difficult for him.
“She was the one person I could talk to literally about anything. It’s not going to be easy,” Yaro said. “I’m close with my dad but not as close as I was with my mom. It’s a big loss for me. But then again, I look back to all the things she has done for us and people in our family. And although she is gone, her legacy will always remain with us.”
Although they kept in regular contact, Yaro didn’t see his mother as much as he would have liked over the past few years after coming to the United States to attend high school in Santa Barbara, California, and then college at Georgetown. But he usually returned to his childhood home in Kumasi, Ghana, at least once a year in what would always be joyous occasions.
Yaro never wanted this year’s trip back to his native country to be for his mother’s memorial, but he tried his best to think of it as just another celebration – this one of her life.
“No matter how much I cry, no matter how sad I am, she’s not going to come back,” Yaro said. “So the one thing I can do is just celebrate the goodness that she did for me and others and just know she’ll be a part of my life forever just because of the way she brought me up.
“I have to celebrate that rather than just be sad that she’s gone.”