Age at MLS Cup: 34
Hometown: Senya Breku, Ghana
ALL COMPETITIONS IN 2020:
Brought to Columbus in the summer of 2015 by former Crew coach Gregg Berhalter, Afful has long been an overlapping threat from the right back position, echoing the Frankie Hejduk forays of yesteryear. A member of the 2015 Eastern Conference Champions, his perfect cross to Lucas Zelarayan on the first goal put the Crew on their way to the 2020 MLS Cup title.
THROUGH JOSH’S EYES:
“Harry is the most likeable guy on the team. I don’t think there’s anybody that doesn’t like Harry. I think even when he messes up, guys are just willing to take the bullet for him. It’s always like, ‘Nah, couldn’t have been him. That was me. I’m sorry.’ Even if you weren’t in the game, you’d be like, ‘Nah, doesn’t matter. That was me.’ He’s just the nicest guy ever. One of those guys who’s always in a good mood. He’ll act like he doesn’t want to work hard, and he’ll always kind of complain, but then you look at him and he’ll give you this wry little smile and work his butt off every time.
“I always joke with everybody that he’s aging backwards. He’s the Benjamin Button of our team. His body is aging backwards because what he does doesn’t make sense. I can’t wrap my mind around it. He must be getting younger because the guy never stops running. He does it in training too, so it’s not like you see it only in the games. He’s going up and down the flank and this is how he is in training. He might be 50 or whatever he is, but his body is 23.
“He’s such a joy to be around. I have a great relationship with him. I’m a guy who’s always looking to crack jokes. Even when Caleb or another coach is talking, I’m trying to get little subtle jabs in there at everybody, from Caleb on down. You can be on the medical or team staff. It doesn’t matter. One of the best parts about doing what we do is that we can be ourselves. We can express ourselves freely and we have the ability to have fun while playing a sport. So to me, as long as you’re working hard and you’re dedicated, you should still be able to laugh every day and poke fun at people, and whenever I do, Harry’s one of the first guys I look to because he’s always looking for a joke too.
“He’s someone who dances whenever he can. Him and the other Ghanians, he’s the smallest, but he’s the king and he kinda rules that roost. He’s the one they all follow what he says, and I think that comes from all the experience he has. I think everyone has an immense amount of respect for him as a person and a player. He’s been doing this for years.
“He’s one of my favorite players to watch. I remember when I first saw Harry. I was playing with Toronto at the time and he had just signed with Columbus. I remember Justin Meram telling me, ‘This guy is so good.’ And then I remember seeing him and thinking he was so tiny. Then, in like the first 30 seconds of the game, he got a long ball in the box that he trapped under pressure. Like, it was a long ball over his shoulder and it was a ridiculous first touch. He traps it, flicks it up to himself, and heads it back to the goalie. I remember first thinking, ‘Is that allowed?’ And then second, ‘I can’t believe he just did that.’ I was so impressed with that play. I remember looking over at Justin and Justin looking back at me even though we were 50 yards apart and playing on different teams. I was looking at Justin like ‘Oh my god’ and Justin was looking at me like ‘I told you so.’ From that moment on, I knew Harry was a guy with real talent and confidence.
“Watching him celebrate after MLS Cup, with the Ghanaian flag around his waist and dancing around and just the joy he had in celebrating with everybody, he was one of my favorite people to watch celebrate because you know he worked so hard for it. You could tell how much it meant to him and how much it meant to be on this team. I have so much respect for him because everybody just loves being around him. I think he had an incredible season and just an incredible time being around people in the locker room.
“He’s such a little guy but he’s able to whip a ball. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve seem him connect on a ball like that one to Lucas. And then there are times where he might just miss a guy, or he’ll put it on a platter and a guy doesn’t finish. But he’s always had that ability to whip in a great ball. So not only is he running up and down for 90 minutes, but he can also get a ball from a spot where, as a defense, you might not even think you were vulnerable, but he’s able to find the back post or that one spot. The center backs where there and only one spot was open, so he hit over G to find Lucas. Just a world-class goal there. I love winning and you’re excited to win a championship in the way in which we won it. And the way in which we won it is that everybody did what they normally do, but they just took it up a level. It wasn’t insane that Lucas could all of a sudden score two goals. Even on the cross, I’ve seen Lucas get in the box and head one in from Pedro, so that was not out of the ordinary. And then scoring upper 90, he did that in the very first game in the very same goal. So it’s not like these goals were once in a lifetime things. Everybody took their level of what was expected of them and then raised it one level. We just took it up a notch. Ultimately, that’s what Harry did. It wasn’t out of the ordinary. That was just the next level that we all knew we needed in order to be champions. In order to beat a team like Seattle, we had to go to that level.”
[NOTE: To see a clickable list of earlier installments of this Josh Williams series or other MLS Cup related posts, please click HERE.]
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