(Image above courtesy of Mynor Campos)
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Major League Soccer has its first Designated Player from Africa.
On Tuesday, the Vancouver Whitecaps announced the signing of Mustapha Jarju, who goes by the nickname "Toubabo." The Gambian international has four goals in 25 international appearances for his country, but it was his performances at Belgian club RAEC Mons that caught the eye of the team’s front office.
“Whenever we are making signings, we like to do that with an eye to the future,” team president Bob Lenarduzzi said in a press conference at Empire Field. “He has had a good career at a very early age in Belgium between the first and second divisions, and the thing that he’s been able to do is score goals.”
Jarju scored 21 goals in all competitions last season for Mons en route to that club’s promotion to Belgium’s top level, the Jupiler League.
“When we scouted Mustapha, the thing that obviously drew us to him was his nose for the goal, and his ability to set up goals,” head coach Tom Soehn said. “Mustapha is at a great age where there’s still room to grow as a player and we’re excited about the potential. He’s spent a lot of time with the youth national teams and the senior team, and even captained that.”
The 24-year-old has played 25 international matches for the Gambian national team, and serves as an alternate captain.
“Captains aren’t just made,” Soehn said. “When you look at his childhood, he’s been captain of the U-17, the U-20s and even at 24, he’s captained his national team. That’s a feather in his cap and those are the kind of guys we want to bring here.”
Throughout his career, Jarju has played in a variety of attacking positions.
“It helps to have players who are versatile,” Soehn said. “It gives you different looks with injuries and national team call-ups. You never know who is available, so having someone who is versatile makes you better as a team.”
The player himself is available for selection this weekend against Real Salt Lake, but hasn’t played since May, when he concluded the Belgian season.
"I am very happy to begin the next stage of my career with Vancouver Whitecaps FC and play in a one of the rising leagues in the world in MLS,” said Jarju. “I had many options throughout Europe and the Middle East, but Whitecaps FC made me feel very welcome and the city is beautiful. Recently, I have watched several matches and believe the club is ready to push for the playoffs.”
Jarju joins fellow Gambian international players Sanna Nyassi (Colorado Rapids), Kenny Mansally (New England Revolution) and Mamadou Danso (Portland Timbers) in Major League Soccer.