BALTIMORE -- For the most important day of his 21 years so far, Joshua Yaro picked out a blue suit. And as he counted down the minutes to the decision that would change the entire track of his life, he barely broke a sweat. Instead, the hotly tipped Georgetown center back seemed, at least on the outside, unruffled as he waited for the beginning of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore.
Sure, his spot in the league was already determined, thanks to a Generation adidas contract—but his draft pick number remained up in the air, and the pressure threatened to bubble over. Throughout last week’s adidas MLS Combine 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Yaro caught club staff and press eyes; as talk went, he would likely go number one. But Jack Harrison, a Wake Forest midfielder, nipped at his heels in the hype department.
On top of all of that, Yaro’s nuclear family was more than 5000 miles away, back in their home country, Ghana. But still, in the lobby of a hotel next to the Baltimore Convention Center, he smiled and breathed evenly.
“I’m excited but at the same time a little bit nervous. Now that the day has arrived, I’m feeling like, ‘Where is it gonna be? Who’s gonna pick me up?’ and all that,” he said. “But at the same time, also I’m definitely really excited to go through the process and find out where I’m gonna end up.”
Yaro wasn’t staring down the process alone, though. He had his girlfriend of one year, Nancy Aburto, with him. He had, too, his “host family” from the Cate School, the small boarding high school he attended outside of Santa Barbara, Califoria. When Yaro was a freshman, Karl Weis, a teacher from the school, informally took him in as one of their own during school breaks when he couldn’t go back to Ghana.
Together, they filed into the convention center ballroom hosting the SuperDraft with the other Generation adidas signees. Among the reserved VIP section for potential draftees, there was already a clear pecking order in the assigned seats. Yaro, Harrison, and other GA signees like Richmond Laryea found place cards in the front couple of rows. Yaro’s seat, in fact, came at the front left corner—the closest to the stage. Was it another hint at No. 1?
Photo by Pablo Maurer
After opening remarks, then, it was time for the moment of truth—the four-minute decision clock started for the first team to pick, the Chicago Fire. Grizzly Bear’s mournful indie hit “Two Weeks” wafted through the loudspeakers. Then the clock finished. The Fire hadn’t made their decision. The Grizzly Bear song continued, appropriately: “Would you alllwayyysss/Maybe someeetimes/Make it eaasssyyyy?”
Then, a second later, the Fire decided to finally make it easy and announce their decision. The No. 1 pick? After a tense pause came the announcement: Jack Harrison. Yaro and his entourage clapped and shook Harrison’s hand—but for a moment, the former’s face fell. Then he stared ahead at the floor, expressionless.
Photo by Pablo Maurer
But the clock started again; no more maudlin indie rock this time, as the DJ selected the relentlessly upbeat Zedd number “Clarity.” Soon, dozens of traveling Philadelphia Union fans from the Sons of Ben started a straightforward chant: “Phi-la-del-phia!” And finally – the team to choose an athlete next announced their pick: Yaro.
His family, then agent, swooped in for hugs. The Sons of Ben whooped and clapped as Yaro took the stage for his first photo op in a Union scarf.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about him. He’s a very shut-down kind of center back and his personality seems good—very humble, he likes how much opportunity he got," said Union fan Shane Billbrough, a senior at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.
“When they announced him, we were pumped as anything,” added his friend Cody Corday, a preschool teacher in Maryland who had taken the day off work to attend the SuperDraft.
“We’re diehard fans,” Billbrough added. “These are the guys we’re gonna be supporting, so might as well get excited from the start.”
The momentary micro-heartbreak of missing the No. 1 pick disappeared. “I didn’t worry about it,” said Aburto, of that first slot. “It was just so exciting to know where Josh is going now.”
“I don’t think he was more concerned about the number of pick, but I think he was more concerned about where he was gonna go,” said Weis. “I’m just kinda relieved that I know where he went, and I’m super excited for him."
Meanwhile, in the media room, a scrum engulfed Yaro, the first in his minutes-old pro career. He looked a little smaller than his 5’11” height as he blinked in the face of flash bulbs—but his spirit, he said, soared.
“With the first-round pick, when you read all that stuff about what happens with the number-one, it feels good, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. You read about guys who were like the 20th pick and turned out to be great,” he said. “That’s over now, and it’s a new start. We’re all going to go into pre-season have have to fight for a spot and build our way up.
Now there was just one next order of business: lunch, after the butterflies finally subsided. “I’m gonna meet my family now and you know, just enjoy the time,” he said, done with a lightning round of video interviews. “I can’t even explain how I feel at this moment. It’s really exciting and I’m trying to take it all in.”