New York Red Bulls' Lloyd Sam, New York City FC's Kwadwo Poku impress in debut with Ghanaian national team

Kwadwo Poku - New York City FC - Solo shot

WASHINGTON – Lloyd Sam and Kwadwo Poku are fairly well known to MLS audiences, regularly performing at a high level for the clubs based in the league's largest media market.

On Tuesday, the duo seized a rare opportunity to introduce themselves to a new audience as they both made their debut for Ghana as second-half substitutes in their 1-1 draw with Canada in an international friendly at RFK Stadium, and it seems they made a strong first impression.

While neither could get on the scoresheet, Sam and Poku waded right into the Black Stars' keen hunt for the winning goal that manager Avram Grant demanded, both quickly getting on the ball and testing the Canadian defense.

Taking up his usual right-wing role in a 22-minute stint, New York Red Bulls' Sam stretched the field for Ghana immediately, running at defenders and unleashing a barrage of testing crosses that had the small but dominantly pro-Ghana crowd on its feet in anticipation of a decisive goal.

Poku was given only eight minutes in an advanced central midfield role, but he seized the initiative to such an extent that one journalist in the postgame press conference wondered why he wasn't called on sooner, while another asked Grant point-blank if the New York City FC cult hero would be called back in the future.

Grant playfully insisted that he'd have to wait and see, and he steadfastly declined to evaluate the performances of specific players. But he admitted that his newcomers “gave me a lot of things to think about” and pledged to keep monitoring their MLS form as he seeks to enrich his team's depth and flexibility.

“When I came, I said that I want to have a big squad – I would prefer to have 35 players that from them I can choose to each game the squad that I want,” said the veteran Israeli, who was denied several established regulars for this trip by both injuries and visa problems. “I cannot tell you after this game if we will use them or not, but it gave me a lot of things to think about because they used the opportunity – not only in the game, we saw them in four trainings. It was important to see them up close.

“We will continue to check players, because as you know, Ghanaian players are all over the world, playing I think on every continent that you can name. A few of them are playing here in the MLS, so it was an opportunity for us, because we are playing here.”

Poku's international debut is the latest and greatest milestone on a Hollywood-style rise from semipro obscurity to sudden notoriety. The powerful midfielder with the amazing backstory was playing in the fourth-tier NPSL less than two years ago, and he admitted that Tuesday night was a surreal moment.

“It feels good. It was my first time in the team and playing with these guys is different – although I'm from there, it's really different playing with guys you've never played with,” he told, also noting that he's still getting acclimated to Grant and his system.

“It's been crazy. I know people back home – even my parents – will look at this, and it's something I've always dreamed about. It's been a long journey, but hopefully, intending to God, it's working out fine.”

Poku said he has received positive reviews from teammates and coaches. With Columbus Crew SC fullback Harrison Afful and Chicago Fire striker David Accam both featuring in the starting lineup vs. Canada, Grant would seem quite comfortable calling on MLS-based troops.

“I thought it was a good game for me and the fans were enjoying it, and I think I did pretty well for myself. So it's been good – we needed a win but we will take the draw,” said Poku.

“Everybody was telling me, 'great job,'” he added. “That's one thing they were looking to bring in the team, because they didn't have that type of somebody who wants to get the ball and just make something happen. I think they are happy to have me.”