Young midfielder Gershon Koffie keyed the Vancouver Whitecaps' win over Portland.
Bob Frid

USSF D-2: Ghanaian teenager leads Whitecaps past Timbers in playoff opener

VANCOUVER — Nineteen-year-old Ghanaian midfielder Gershon Koffie shone for the Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday night as they won 2-0 over the Portland Timbers in the first leg of their USSF D-2 playoff series.

Captain Martin Nash scored the other goal, from the penalty spot.

Koffie is the latest West African to have a massive impact in the last week in the Pacific Northwest. Last weekend, Ghanaian Kalif Alhassan scored the Timbers’ opening goal against the Whitecaps in the regular season closer at Swangard Stadium.

On Tuesday, Gambian Sanna Nyassi played the role of hero with both goals in the Seattle Sounders' 2-1 US Open Cup final triumph.

On Thursday night, it was Koffie’s turn. Coming off of a one-match suspension after a red card against Montreal, Koffie wasted no time making amends. With a dangerous corner kick landing at his feet 45 seconds into the match, the Ghanaian teen made no mistake, slamming the ball emphatically off the crossbar and into the back of the net to give his side an early lead.

“He did really well,” Nash said after the game. “We’ve seen glimpses of it in training. It’s great to see.”

One of several African players on the squad, Koffie has begun to settle into life in Vancouver, and the results are now showing on the field. He played with confidence, even trying an audacious shot from midfield in the 57th minute that Timbers goalkeeper Steve Cronin was lucky to see land wide.

Nash has been surprised by Koffie’s rapid progress. “He had a decent first game—I think he was a bit nervous,” the captain explained. “Tonight, he came out and played really well. A lot better than I thought he was ready to.”

While Koffie provided a much needed boost to the Whitecaps’ attack with his energetic play, the Timbers’ Alhassan could have used a cup of decaf in the early going. After a strong display last week, Alhassan was the goat on the second goal of the evening, clipping Vancouver’s Blake Wagner in the box 12 minutes in. Nash duly finished the spot kick to give the ‘Caps a 2-0 lead.

What’s most impressive about Koffie is that he’s still only 19 years of age, as is fellow countryman Alhassan. Sounders winger Nyassi—along with twin brother Sainey of the New England Revolution—is the graybeard of the bunch at 21 years of age.

“He’s a talented young player,” Nash said of Koffie. “We’re going to see a lot of good things from him in the future.”

The Whitecaps and Timbers will meet again on Sunday in Portland in the decisive second leg of their final D-2 series.

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